Nathanial Brandon’s “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” was recommended to me years ago. It is a book I return to again and again, though infrequently. Of the many nuggets of wisdom to be found in Brandon’s book, one is related to the subject of self-talk, the messages we give ourselves internally, the dialogue we have with ourselves as we go about the business of daily life. On the one hand is the tremendous potential to enhance our sense of self, to know greater peace and strength in life, via intentionally encouraging positive self talk. On the other hand is the unfortunate potential to diminish our sense of self, in some cases to impede or even destroy our ability to find greater peace and strength in life through engaging in negative self talk. May I ask you, respectfully, how are you doing with your own self talk? How are you managing the inner dialogue that goes on, often unconsciously, as you deal with people at work, as you drive your kids to hockey, as you meet friends by chance at the Post Office?
Comedian Lewis Black, during one of his stand-up routines, discusses golfers (he claims to be one himself). He says that the three hours after one gets up in the morning, prior to one’s tee-off time, may be the best three hours of the day for a golfer. In that time frame one is full of anticipation, anticipation for what a great day it is going to be out there on the golf course. Then, once he/she arrives at the golf course, Lewis suggests, still the mood is good, great even, as one still anticipates the 4 – 5 hours ahead (Lewis actually maintains that when a golfer arrives at the course, he/she should take a deep breath, acknowledge what a great day it is already, then head straight for the clubhouse where enjoyment abounds, and not the golf course where enjoyment is fleeting). So, finally the time comes to start the game and the golfer strides out onto the tee box, places his/her tee in the ground, then the ball on the tee, and has his/her last clear thought of the day. For when the golfer pulls out his/her driver in order to blast the ball straight down the fairway, launching himself/herself into a great day, of course the actual shot ends up about 35 yards ahead and directly into the trees, perhaps never to be seen again! At that point, argues Lewis, the thought processes within the golfer’s mind change instantly from “What a great day this is going to be”, to “Don’t you remember what I told you this morning, when you first got up out of bed? I told you that you were without talent, worthless, a waste of space whose life is characterized mostly by failure. But you didn’t believe me, did you? And here you are, golfing, proving once again that you don’t really amount to much!” (paraphrased, I’m afraid)
Lewis’ (paraphrased) point is perhaps harsh, perhaps overstating the case, in an attempt to arouse some laughter from his audience, but his point may be relevant for some of us who struggle with self-talk. What messages do we give ourselves about ourselves? What phrases come into our thoughts more often – “You’re a good-hearted person” or “You idiot, why did you say that?”, “You have a lot to give to the world”, or “You’re a mess, a wreck. Get it together!”?
Which leads me to the subject of gratitude. Can gratitude, the cultivation of a thankful spirit, an appreciative heart, enhance the focus of our self-talk? I’ve got a good, old friend, a wise spirit, a gifted, spiritually-aware fellow sojourner (you know who you are), who once shared with me long ago a not-so-profound yet, I think, powerful reminder of life’s gift and the choices we have before us as to how we view life. He always said, “Dave, every day we’ve got to try to remember the blessings we already have in our lives, and give thanks for them, rather than lamenting the things we don’t have, whatever they may be.” To be grateful for what we have now? Perhaps to be grateful for who we are now? Instead of whining about, complaining about what is absent from our lives, rejoicing in what is truly good and a part of our lives! Rejoicing in who we are, focusing our attention on those aspects of ourselves which are indeed good, decent, commendable, and valuable? Of course this doesn’t mean we ignore the area of self-improvement, yet we seek intentionally to remember what God has given us, how God has made us, blessed us, how, as Scripture reminds us, there is something of the Divine image, something of the sacred, within each of us. Thus choosing to be grateful?
A wonderful movie came out perhaps ten years ago, a real tear-jerker, called “One True Thing”, starring Meryl Streep, William Hurt, and a youngish Renee Zellwegger. The film tells the story of a family coping with cancer, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. Early in the story it becomes clear that Zellwegger’s character, with a generally solemn, surly outlook on life, lacks respect for her flighty, uneducated mother, played by Streep, but virtually worships her intellectual, articulate, University-professor father, played by Hurt. But things change when Streep’s character is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The intellectual father and husband cannot handle his precious wife’s decline, spending many evenings at the local pub, drinking as a way of “coping”. The uneducated mother and wife emerges as the mature and true leader of the family even while dying a slow, painful death. And in one particularly emotional, well-acted scene, Streep’s character heatedly engages her judgemental, cold daughter with these words: “Stop shushing me! Your father shushes me, everyone shushes me. You all think I have nothing to say, but this is my time to speak! And I want you to hear me! … You’re not happy, my love, and it’s so much easier to be happy in life, it’s so much easier to choose to love the things that you have instead of yearning for what you’re missing or what it is you’re imagining you’re missing. It’s so much more peaceful.” I don’t know why but this scene from “One True Thing”, this exchange between two incredible actors, these words, have stayed with me over the years. To choose happiness. To choose gratitude?
If you had to choose something for which to be grateful today (and I’m asking you to do it right now!), what would it be, my friends? What about tomorrow? And the next day? And the next? In the ongoing battles we have with our self-talk (if you have them, and you may not) where does gratitude enter in? How can your life be enriched by choosing gratitude?
I want to finish this week with just a few quotes to ponder.
Blessings and Peace,
“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
– Tecumseh, 1768-1812, aboriginal leader (Shawnee); supported Canada in the War of 1812.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart, 1260-1329.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936
“O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” – Dietrich Bonheoffer, 1906 – 1945
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parents of all others.” – Cicero, 106 – 43 BCE
“Many times a day I realize how much my own life is built on the labours of my fellowmen, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
— Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”
– Albert Schweitzer, 1875 – 1965
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– the Apostle Paul, 5 BCE – 67 CE