fbpx

3 Ways to Step into Gratitude

There’s a very old Hebrew Psalm that’s been circling in my mind lately. It’s an ancient prayer that is definitely not filled with praise or thanksgiving, instead, lament:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
(from Psalm 137)

In other words: How are we to be grateful or express thanksgiving when it is demanded of us? Or, maybe even more true, when we demand it of ourselves?

The list is long of things that can make gratitude feel arduous and disingenuous:

  • Racism, sexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism, consumerism — an endless list of “isms.”
  • Family dynamics so tense that silence feels like your wisest choice — but also the most frustrating one.
  • Fears about money.
  • Fears about global warming.
  • A growing awareness about the ways in which the subconscious belief that you are “too much” is impacting, well, pretty much everything.
  • A resurfaced, painful memory from your childhood that keeps playing itself like a tape in your head, endlessly looping.
  • Hard parenting moments (if not full-on seasons, even years).
  • Political strife.
  • Uh, a pandemic!
  • Too many unspoken thoughts and feelings in your most important relationship(s).
  • A general feeling of anxiety and lostness; an internal swirling/churning that doesn’t seem to let up no matter what you try and frankly, doesn’t make a bit of sense to you.
  • Feeling like your life is in parts and pieces — disjointed, disparate, unhooked.
  • No matter how big, even loving, the group of people is, you still feel alone.

I could go on.

Asking the Hebrew people to sing songs when in captivity? You trying to feel grateful with this list? Impossible. Ridiculous. Unreasonable. Beyond capacity.

You feel the pressure to express, even feel gratitude when really, somedays, the best you can do is get out of bed.

To pretend like all of these things (and so many more) don’t actually exist — or to sweep them into some dusty corner for the day — so that you can smile and say the right things and feign gratitude is exhausting.

Feigned gratitude is also nearly-always demanded of us. Especially as women.

  • Just keep smiling (like Dori in Finding Nemo — “just keep swimming…”)
  • Make sure things are OK for everyone else.
  • Don’t upset the apple cart.
  • Keep your feelings to yourself.
  • Don’t complain.
  • And be grateful, will you? After all, things could be worse!

This last bullet point is a very slippery slope. I hear it often from clients (and even within myself at times). “Who am I to complain, compared to the problems that other people have?” “I hate to even talk about this; it feels so insignificant in the scheme of things.” “Really, I’m lucky; I’ve no right to not be grateful.”

Here’s the thing: all of those things can be true, may be true, but so are your struggles, your fears, your anxieties,  your family dynamics, your challenges, and your exhaustion!

You are not all good or all bad, all happy or all sad, all grateful or completely ungrateful. You are a complex and amazing woman who holds a multitude of realities and emotions and experiences and roles and responsibilities and heartbreaks and hopes — all at the same time!

This, my friend, is where gratitude can at least begin: acknowledge just how vast and deep all of you actually is — not only the “acceptable” parts but also (and maybe even more) those parts that you have the tendency to sweep into those dusty corners.

Gratitude has to be, gets to be, inclusive: the hard stuff as well as the beautiful, the ache as well as the celebration, the failure as well as the success, the loneliness as well as the love, the reality as well as the hope.

I hate to be too reductionist, but here’s what I believe:

Acknowledging what is true is gratitude.

Honestly name the reality of who you are,
and what you feel,
and all that you experience,
and all that makes you crazy,
and all that you wish you could change,
and every single thing you wish for, hope for, desire, and deserve.

That list? Those things? All of them? They are you!

When I consider youAll of you? Well, all I feel is grateful. Yes — you are conflicted and confused and complicated. Yes — you are generous and genuine and gracious. Yes — you get angry and frustrated and irritable. Yes — you feel afraid and worried and anxious. Yes — you are trusting and optimistic and willing to try yet again. Amazing!

The ability to take in, see, hold, and honor all of you is what generates gratitude. Acknowledging what is true. Not forced. Not demanded. And maybe even somewhat unexpected. It’s grace, really.

*****

So, 3 ways to step more deeply into gratitude?

  1. Acknowledge the complexity and beauty and conflictedness of all of you. Then you can better allow the same in others.
  2. Allow the pain of the world and its beauty. Then you can feel into just how deep and vast and infinite your emotions truly are. (One of them might just be gratitude.) YOU are that deep and vast and infinite!
  3. Begin to name the parts of you that you’ve worked so hard to overcome or at least keep hidden. Yes, it can feel overwhelming and scary; but it is the very thing that invites you to step into a story (and life) that is honest and expansive and true and real and raw and vulnerable and tender and fierce. And that? Mmmm. Definitely gratitude!

It is true: there is MUCH that gives us cause to be ungrateful — as it should! Endless internal and external messages that deny our value and worth. Patriarchy. Objectification. Sexual trafficking. Domestic violence. Pay and leadership inequity. Misogyny. The list is l o n g.

But this is also true: in the midst of all this, still, YOU are you!

Mysteriously, amazingly, serendipitously, incomprehensibly — you survive, your story endures, your wisdom persists, your heart loves.

I don’t know how else to respond, but to say thank you.

I’m hopeful that you can say the same — to yourself and for yourself, in grateful response to all of who you are — even now, even still, in the midst.

May it be so.

*****

Every week I write a letter to my subscribers. There’s no skimming the surface; instead, it’s filled with truth-telling and diving deep. I’d love for you to have it. And I’d be super-grateful. Every Monday morning — your inbox — from my heart to yours. SUBSCRIBE.

About Being Alone

  1. Tell myself the truth.
  2. Remember that I am never truly alone.
  1. Tell yourself the truth about how you feel (especially when “alone” is the word you’d use to describe such); believe that you are worthy of the deepest and most honest emotions — always.
  2. Remember and believe that you are not alone. Because you aren’t. Ever. Not really.

5 Ways to Have the Life you Desire

Here’s the quick version of this post:

  1. Hold fast to what you most desire.

And here’s the longer one:

1. Hold fast to what you most desire.

Without a clear sense of your truest, deepest desires you feel uncertain, unclear, and often unmotivated to plant a stake in the ground — fearful that you won’t get what you want anyway, even if you know what that is.

Desire is not about its fulfillment. At least not completely. It is about risk and faith and trust and belief. And without these? Well, you wander, or worse, you feel like your feet — and life — are encased in cement. But when you DO know what you desire, everything is possible! Desire is what creates and enables possibility in and of itself. (And it is the stuff of the very best stories ever!)

A Practical To-Do: Let yourself dream! What do you most want? What would you envision for yourself if you could? No editing. No censoring. No doubts. No fears. Everything and anything allowed. Do NOT get waylaid by the endlessly long list of reasons why you can’t have any of this. Let yourself be hungry for all of it. Let yourself want! Desire. Desire. Desire!

2. Name what you want.

There is no end to the thoughts and emotions that swirl within me. But unchecked, unarticulated, and unnamed they can, at times, become so overwhelming that I can’t see my way through to anything practical, to next steps, to any form of clarity. I feel overwhelmed and stuck.

Thankfully, these moments, even seasons, are increasingly rare. I have learned to move the words out of me. I intentionally make them tangible, seen, and heard. I write everything down and read it back to myself. I talk to others (in discerning, appropriate, and safe contexts). I literally see and hear my desire, my longed-for story, instead of *just* being aware of it within. And it’s the same that I’m encouraging for you.

Choose to let your words, thoughts, and emotions be named, heard, and seen by both self and others.

A Practical To-Do: Using #1, above, as prompt, ask yourself: what do I really-and-truly desire? Then close your eyes (yes, really) and type. No spellcheck. No worries. Just go! Some aspect of the inner critic gets silenced; when you open your eyes back up and read what you’ve written, you will see and hear with more acuity than before. Truth is spoken. Themes are revealed. And clarity emerges. Not all at once. Not forever and ever, amen. But in ways that are new, revelatory, and important. You’ll discover insights that can’t help but compel your needed next steps and the story you long to live!

Another Practical To-Do: Talk! To a therapist, coach, spiritual director, and/or trusted friend. It’s invaluable to hear yourself out loud. (An interim option is to record yourself on a voice memo. I’ve done this many times over the years and am always astounded by the words and unnamed truths I hear myself speak.)

3. Acknowledge what’s bound to get in the way.

When I start thinking about what I desire, I VERY quickly move to inventorying all the reasons why this isn’t going to work, why it’s going to be too hard, how I’m going to hurt others, how I’ll be misunderstood, and/or all the tension I’ll create . . . It is ONLY when I take the time and effort to articulate and name (yes, again) every bit of this that I can ever hope to move forward.

The story and life you desire and deserve automatically comes with risks, costs, and consequences. That’s the evidence that it’s real, that it’s powerful, that it’s worth pursuing!

A Practical To-Do: List out all the risks, costs, and consequences of your hoped-for future. What are you most afraid will happen? If those things do take place, then what might happen? And what are the risks, costs, and consequences if you DON’T pursue what matters most to you? This is not about doom and gloom; it is an honest acknowledgement of just how hard it is to move forward, how exhausting it is to lean into the wind, how challenging (and critical) it is to live what you desire and deserve. Now, of what you’ve named, what are you fully capable of handling when you already know it’s coming? What difference does it make when you’re not surprised by others’ reactions? How might paying even more attention to the costs of not living into what you most want, be the motivation you need to rise up and persevere?

4. Take actual steps over and through the obstacles.

I went through a long season in which there was a HUGE gap between what I felt on the inside and expressed on the outside. I made a deal with myself: “Just once today, you must tell the truth.” Sometimes, shockingly, nothing I’d feared actually happened. Other times I could see the hairline cracks extend under the facade I’d painstakingly sustained. Over time I got stronger, bolder, clearer. And eventually, bit by bit, the gap closed. I then made new decisions, took more steps, and watched myself begin to live in ways that felt aligned and sovereign. It was hardly dramatic and at times, almost imperceptible. But it was no less real.

Too much of the time we look at the chasm between where we are and where we want to be, then instantly feel certain that we do not have the capacity to make those kinds of leaps and dramatic changes. Understandably! Which is why you’re far better served by making tiny changes, experimenting, slightly tweaking your way of handling particular situations. That’s enough. It’s significant! And over time, those single, simple, small steps WILL add up to forward movement and even more momentum. I promise!

A Practical To-Do: Determine the very smallest step you could possibly take and take it! A “no” instead of a resentful “yes.” A beginning boundary enforced. Speaking (just once/day) instead of staying silent. Then take the next step and the next one after that. You’ve totally got this! I can hardly wait to see where those one-foot-in-front-of-the-other actions carry you in the the year ahead!

5. Don’t do any of this alone.

These steps, this effort, this life’s work? It’s a lot.

Perhaps easier said than done, but my strongest encouragement (and hope) on your behalf is that you choose to NOT be alone in any of it! I know how hard it is to navigate day-in, day-out life, let alone your stories — past, present, and future — without the consistency, kindness, safety, and wisdom, and presence of another. You don’t have to do it alone. Truly.

When we are not separated from self or each other, when we gather, when we vulnerably-and-bravely tell our truths, when we demand-and-live the story we desire and deserve, the earth shifts on its axis and everything changes.

If I were to create yet another list of next steps, it would look like this:

  • Find, ask for, and accept the support you need.

There’s absolutely nothing I want more for you, for me, for all of us — together.

May it be so.

*****

If this post resonates, subscribe to my Weekly Letter. It does NOT skim the surface. It goes deep. It’s filled with truth-telling. And it’s from my heart to yours. Every Monday. 6:00 am sharp. And completely free. Learn more

The Voices in Your Head

  • Someday my prince/ess will come: my life will be complete when I’m rescued, when I’m finally seen, when I’m removed from this impossible situation. And “magic” is definitely required to make anything happen — it’s not really up to me.
  • I will eventually awake from this sleep (less-than stellar relationship, unfulfilling job, etc.) to find all my dreams fulfilled: my reality is only temporary. If I just keep waiting (and sleeping), everything will work out as I hope. And yes, again, “magic” is required, or at least the perfect kiss, to finally live the life I long for.
  • It’s my own fault I’m living East of Eden: if only I hadn’t pursued my desire, trusted my own wisdom, listened to my intuition. I should have known better. I’ve no one to blame but myself for the hell I’m now in.

Given the power inherent in the way stories of women have been told FOR ILL (whether Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Eve, or countless others), the opposite is just as true: stories of women, when reimagined, retold, and redeemed, have even more power FOR GOOD!

Why I’ve Given Up on Prayer

*****

A number of years ago, when my daughters were still teenagers, my youngest stepped into a season of struggle (to put it mildly) that stretched me beyond capacity, hope, or reason. There were moments in which I couldn’t decide if I should call 911, her therapist, my therapist, or just hide under the covers and let her do the same. At its worst, I wrestled with what felt like the real possibility of losing her altogether. I won’t keep you in suspense: today she is an amazing young woman — aware, wise, hardly naive, clear about what it means to struggle, able to offer levels of empathy and compassion to others ; she continues to astound me. But before this “ending,” there was the beginning night of awareness of just how bad things were. No sleep. Only tears. And a memory that feels like it was yesterday:

I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed, more deeply aware than ever before, just how alone I was as a single mom, more afraid than I’d ever felt, and more-than completely unequipped for what was happening in the mind and heart of my precious girl. Through tears and snot and not nearly enough Kleenex,  It would offer a panacea I no longer had at my disposal. How convenient and pleasant: to hand all this off somehow, to feel like in surrendering, in turning it over to God, that surely all things would work together for good.

Not believing this anymore left me feeling even more alone and more afraid. I wanted to pray, but knew that to do so would be little other than my desperate wish and a frantic grasping at anything that might ease my pain but do nothing to lessen hers. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t.

In the more than 10 years that have passed since that night, I have thought back on it many times. I have sussed out my cynicism, my anger, and certainly my angst. But still, my resistance to prayer has remained. It was a crossroads, to be sure: deeply longing for solace, but with seemingly nowhere to turn except within; to blow on some barely-lit fire inside me that somehow-but-barely enabled me to get up in the morning, fix her breakfast, send her to school, and hope and hope and hope.

I realize that all of this sounds dark and dreary. And at the time, it was. Now I remember it with endless gratitude. Yes, because she made it through that particular season of crisis. But also because I did: not broken or desolate, but more aware than ever before of what it meant to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death,” completely present to everything I felt.

Not some whimsical temptation or luring sin. Not that kind of desire: tepid, temporary, lite. No.

This desire was blazing, intense, undaunted, and undying. It was (and is) a full and unrestrained expression of everything within me. And a far cry from anything I’d ever known in prayer.

The Upanishads capture this, at least in part:

“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Desire takes courage. And faith. There is no promise of an outcome we long for. No guarantee. Just sheer determination, firm belief, and an endless acknowledgement of what thrums within us in the deepest and most persistent of ways. It persists. It perseveres. It burns.

There are days and times when I feel a lingering ache for prayer’s comfort and solace. But less and less. I don’t need to be soothed, but enflamed. I don’t need to surrender, but rise up. I don’t need to find answers, but to take action. And my desire is what compels all of this and then some. Endlessly burning… one might even say without ceasing.

Wisdom from Dr. Sharon

I came across a Facebook post by Brene Brown a few weeks back. She was talking about her recent conversation with Sarah Niles who plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone on Ted Lasso. (If you’re not a Ted Lasso devotee, I promise, all of this will still make sense.)

These were the words in the meme that accompanied the post:

All I try to do is just root my feet and feel like I have a right to be here. I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be seen. I am seen. I am loved. ~ Sarah Niles

Honestly. I could just stop here, yes?

And, I have more I want to say…

Root your feet and feel like you have a right to be here.
We live in a world that often (and still) tells us we do not have that right. The evidence is legion. Still, still, women are not allowed to make choices for themselves (in some states more than others). Still, still, our voices are not heard. Still, still, our compensation does not equal that of our male counterparts. Still, still, domestic violence persists — and sexual trafficking — and sexual violence. And what is the antidote to this? SO much, of course; but the MOST healing, MOST transformative, MOST world-changing thing possible is YOU believing that you have a right to be here. Right here. Right now. So, root your feet. Stand still. Stand tall. Stand firm. And stay.

You deserve to be loved. You deserve to be seen.
No kidding. Despite your own stories — a lifetime of them — in which you’ve not been loved as you deserved, not been seen, not been heard, not been honored, this wisdom calls you to a deeper truth; one that surpasses, overcomes, and heals the lies.

You are seen. You are loved.
The thing I love about these two statements is that they eliminate all argument, all self-doubt, all question marks, all ambivalence, all wondering. They just are. They are true. And when you believe them, really believe them, then you live in ways that reflect their truth. Do that, yes?

A few ways you might experiment in the days to come:

  • Every morning this week, open up a blank document on your computer or page in your journal and write these words across the top of the page: Because I have the right to be here, that means…
  • In every conversation or interaction or meeting this week, tuck an index card or sticky note into your pocket — even the palm of your hand — that says, I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be seen. Then pay attention to, even track, how that shifts the way in which you show up, how you speak out, what you say “no” to, where you say “yes,” even the tilt of your chin and the squaring of your shoulders.
  • Each night this week, just before you fall asleep, repeat these words: I am seen. I am loved. What dreams may come? What gratitude might pour forth? What reflection might you see in your minds eye of just how amazing and wise and deserving you truly are?
  • Oh, and listen to the podcast: Brene Brown’s conversation with Sarah Niles herself.
  • Finally, again and again and again — repeat these words to yourself (maybe even to those you love):

All I try to do is just root my feet and feel like I have a right to be here. I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be seen. I am seen. I am loved.

Vast thanks, Dr. Sharon.