Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Dear God: On Saying Thank You

Dear God,
You sound a lot like my late (earthly) father with today’s lessons on manners in Luke’s gospel: Ten lepers had been healed, and yet only one returned to thank Jesus. So Jesus turned to that man–a Samaritan, of course, because those guys always get it right—and said, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
If my dad left me with one lesson before he died, it was this: always say thank you. Even on his deathbed he thanked his wife for changing his adult diapers.
“Never forget to say thank you.” That was his epitaph.
I make sure to thank the waiter for my sparkling water with lime, a neighbor for giving me two eggs and a cup of vegetable oil, a friend for helping me look an hour for my keys, which were in my pocket.
Yesterday, as I stretched out in a cardiologist’s office watching a sonogram of my heart, I was filled with awe at the miracle of life—how the aortic valve pumps like a clapping pair of cymbals, allowing every other organ to thrive. As I looked at the screen, at this visual display of life, I remembered the first sonograms of my babies—the first moments I saw their tiny beating hearts, evidence that both were healthy pregnancies, and that I was, quite literally, a carrier of life.


And because I have emerged from a tormenting pit of despair, I can now recognize so many blessings in my life that before went unnoticed: a husband who’s willing to wear the Martha Stewart apron because it doesn’t fit me; a little boy who is growing in curiosity, intelligence, and sensitivity; a magical girl who was named class clown at age two by her preschool teacher.
For everything that doesn’t go wrong—library books returned on time without marker damage, a good parallel park job, pumpkin-pie-flavored ice-cream downtown–I give you thanks. You know that, right?
But when I can’t find the library books that were due two months ago–for which we’ve been fined a fee three times their cost–and after three tries I still can’t park the car without its but hanging out like Katherine’s does, and when Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream no longer carries pumpkin-pie flavor, I’m out of thank-yous. When things happen independent of my script–and that’s often in the world of a mentally ill addict–my thank-you’s hang out with those Jehovah Witnesses on bikes—they’re not allowed in the house.
For pointers on how to stay grateful while sitting in a massive accumulation of animal waste, I guess I should look to my favorite saints.
My patron saint, Therese of Lisieux, wrote:


For me, prayer is the heart’s impulse, a simple gaze toward heaven. It is a cry of gratitude and love, from the depths of trial as well as the heights of joy.

Mother Teresa wrote:

If [my darkness and emptiness] brings You glory, if You get a drop of joy from this—if souls are brought to You—if my suffering satiates Your Thirst—here I am Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life—and I will smile at Your Hidden Face—always.

Not me. I get more frustrated than Ronald McDonald without his sesame buns, madder than the Sea Witch in “The Little Mermaid.” How do those two great souls keep smiling through their crap?
I read somewhere that by saying thank you, we change our orientation from ourselves to another: that gratitude is an act of selflessness and is the purest form of prayer. Does this mean that I’m selfish and self-absorbed if I can’t be grateful when I’m mad?
I know I have a ways to go in this whole Oprah-ish positive-thinking stuff. I need your help. Teach me how to be grateful even in those very painful, I-really-wish-I-were-dead moments. Like Mother Teresa and my patron saint were. Because I’ve got the easy part down.
Remind me of my echocardiogram–of the vision of my heart beating to a semi-rapid beat thanks to my love affair with Starbucks–in those hours in the future when I’m blind to the beauty of life and, like the nine ungrateful lepers, I forget to say thank you.

  • Wendi

    I often feel grateful for a lot of things. The one thing I can’t manage, though, is to be grateful for depression. I don’t think I’ll ever get there, either.
    PS – Please stay away from the dark side – Oprah – that woman wouldn’t recognize real life if it hit her in the face.

  • Lynn

    all oprahs money is a great insulator for her isn’t it. I should be so well insulated! LOL :)

  • Fighter Jet

    it was great reading this post.Thank God,that I stumbled on it somehow.It was really peace giving..specially the words of Mother Teresa.

  • Angell

    Depression can awaken us to the fact that something is just so
    missing from our lives that we make changes to account for that.
    Depression kakes one able to realize how great it is not to be
    depressed and to be happier for this non ocurrence. This is
    why I am greatful for depression although, of course, I’d rather
    not have had to deal with it.

  • Larry Parker

    The priest at my Mass Sunday (at the insistence of a dear friend of mine, I went to church for the first time since Easter) took his homily on the Gospel of Luke a step further. He said what to be grateful for is not to be healed — since we all have afflictions in this world — but rather to be touched by Jesus to begin with. He used the example of Helen Keller (not an orthodox Catholic, Christian or even believer to say the least), who communicated late in life that it was her very lack of hearing and sight that had deepened her faith as her life went on.
    Not sure how I feel about this. I go through periods, like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, where “I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” (I had one today looking up at the trees losing their leaves in, of all places, a cemetery I was walking through for some quiet solitude.)
    But relaxing is awfully tough for those of us with depression, isn’t it?

  • Frank

    Gratitude – I want to say thank you right now. Beyond Blue and its messages find a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter. I’m often incapable of seeing the good when I’m too focused on myself. And since that can be a big part of the day, that would be a big oops. It’s not that I even particularly like the man in the mirror, it’s just that his face is the only one I’ve got. So, selfishness seems to be a part of this somewhere, somehow. I’m grateful for realizing that little snippet of the truth. Thank you. I don’t mean to be self-involved. It just seems to happen, even in a vacuum. So, I’ll try to pull myself out of that role and into one of service and servanthood. That might just be the ticket.

  • Cindy

    Saying “thank you” and looking someone straight in the eyes when you say it so they know you mean it can change a person’s day. I, too, was raised by parents who believed in “never forgetting to say thank you” because they were raised during the Great Depression and were truly thankful for every day that they had food and a roof. I rarely forget to look at whoever is serving me lunch or sitting across from me and smile and say “thank you.” Almost inevitably, that person’s face changes. Then all of a sudden I’m getting better service or someone is holding the trashcan @ Wendy’s open for me to empty my tray. It’s amazing how something so simple and done so easily can make such a difference. One of the greatest difficulties I have faced during my experience with depression are my feelings of worthlessness and guilt for not appreciating the gifts that I have been given. I finally realized the one thing I can do to make me feel better is to let someone else know that I appreciate them. This is actually my selfish way of finding some value in getting up, getting dressed and teaching my children to do this same thing so that they understand that you can make a difference in someone’s day. It could well end up being yourself that gets the “thank you.” God gave us a simple rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Just one more thing. Thank you for Beyond Blue.

  • Wisdum

    I really don’t know if it is a good thing to thank God for all our pain and suffering. But I do believe that “All things are turned to the good” and that might take centuries to get to that happy ending ! I do believe that we should confront God for whatever our problems are in this Life (although most of them are self-inflicted) There are certain things that come into play when you do that, 1- You admit that there is an all powerful God of Uncompromising, Unconditional Love. 2- You admit that this God can do something about your problem 3- If you really do believe all of that, then, to not expect some action from God would be calling on God in vain … as in “Do not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain !” … On the other hand, “Be careful what you ask for or pray for, you just might get it !’
    LUV 2 ALL

  • Larry Parker

    But it’s always so much easier to express gratitude to other people than it is to compliment yourself (or to thank G-d/the Universe for one’s “stupid little life”) — don’t you think?

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Frank: In my (nearly) sixty years on this planet, I’vee leaned that service to others often IS the thing that allows me to pull out of myself and feel the “mornal”, translare: non-depressive attitudes like gratitude.
    Therese and larry: Another lesson ( one of those that has required frequent repetitions for me to learn) I’ve (FINALLY) accepred that the people i most frequently forget to thank are those to whom I probably owe the most gratitde, along with MYSELF! iT’S MUCH EASIER TO CONJORE UP A SMILE AND A “THANKYOU (Even a muttered one) to the stranfer who holds a door open for me than it is to thank myself for maintaining a realatively even-keeled tiller on a paerticylar day despite the fact that n oone knows better how much more effort that takes than swinging a door open! I’ve also discovered that my “allergy” to gratitude is at it’s worst when others deign to thank ME, be it for the small courtesy such as the aforementioned door or nuch larger sacrifices like agreeing to take the time to word a business letter for a friend caught on the horns of a beaurocratic dilema somehow, a simple “You’re welcome or “Glad I could help,” becomes smothered under my tendancy to belittle my own contributions to the lives of others. Today’s post makes me wonder if the two phenomena might just be connected in my splintered mind and tortured psyche. I hav friends who greet every morning with a thank you for waking another day, and envy them that habit, especially since it’s one I’ve tried to nurture within myself without success. How much more natural for me to complain upon awakening (God, I asked youAGAIN last night to give me some relief from the abyss, yet this morning I still find myself next to the vipers in the pit–what gives with that?” I think it might be important to realize with such special exanples as Helen Keller/mother Theresa that their own particular wmbrace with a grateful heart came later in life when hindsight opened their eyes to the positive consequences of their earlier experiences with affliction. M(AYBE THERE’S HOPE FOR ME YET?)rather than during their darkest hours. And after all, hindsight IS reputed to be 20/20. When I had a miscarriage nearly twenty years ago I was devesated, but today’s perfect vision allows me to understand that I wouldn’t enjoy being forced to maintain any kind of ongoing relationship with my adulterous ex and his current wife who was his paramour during our marriage and had my child been born that would have undoubtedly been required of me. I can’t honestly say that I can THANK God for that miscarriage even today, but I can and D thank him for having the wisdom to do what would prove to be best for me in the big picture and i’ve even come far wnough down that road to remind myself of that when I find myself railing against the crises of the present, at least to a point. It’s INCERDIBLY difficult, however, to practice a “Father Knows best’ attitude on a daily basism especially when i wake up to find a viper curled beside(or INSIDE) my head basking itself in the warmth of my tortured psyche!
    I’d like to believe that had I been one of the ten, it would have been me who went running back to say thank you, but the reality of my (our) current affliction forces me to look at the fact that I probably would have been one of the thankless majority! And i’m sorry, (Now THAT PARTICULAR COURTESY PHRASE IS ONE WHICH i nwever SEEM TO FORGET!) BUT i have enough OTHER other reasons to beat up on myself; I don’t need another one! Hopefully that won’t be enough to lock the pearly Gates when I approach them.

  • cathy

    Theresa asked: “Does this mean that I’m selfish and self-absorbed if I can’t be grateful when I’m mad?”
    I’m familiar with this worry. When I’m angry, I want to be ANGRY for awhile. I wasn’t allowed to be angry as a child. This is new territory for me. I’m sensitive to the harm that anger causes for the world and for me, and I wonder how to LOVE in the middle of anger. I want to make my anger useful and purposeful.
    So I imagine working in the garden — my real garden or my emotional garden. There are lots of slugs out there. They need to be dealt with in order for the tender leaves and fruits to mature. The rows of carrots need to be thinned, and I can do that in a tender but angry way. I need to wack that pile of debris and kitchen gook to make healthy compost, and I use some anger when I raise the pitchfork to stir the disgusting pile. Working in the dirt, becoming dirty in all that I do in the garden, helps me feel more clean and connected.
    I do believe there is a spiritual purpose to anger. It needs to be controlled and used wisely. If it’s denied air and the light of day, it becomes toxic within us. If we deny its presence within us, we will allow others to use that unowned energy in the world (on our behalf).

  • Margaret Balyeat

    iT’S ME AGAIN! Cathy, you’re hitting the nail squarely on its head IMHO! especially in terms of our emotional gardens! Hate and ungratefulness are the weeds which grow in mine at times, and they’re even more difficult than the dandelions which used to dot my font yard to get rid of. They do an equal anount of figurative damage as those old nemeses of mine, as well. The trick to finally banishing those yellow blooms turned out to be making sure I got the entire root, I find myself wondering if the same might be true in our emotional realms. (Getting to the “root: of anger and ungrateful attitude, I mean. Is that too Fruedian? Of course, cath, we must OWNthem before we can deal with them; you’re correct on that score as well (Cathy:3, the Splintered mind: 0, at least so far as I can see in today’s “game!)

  • Larry Parker

    For years I could be reduced to Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”)-type bumbling, fumbling and stumbling at a mere, “Thank you, Larry” from a stranger or even a relative.
    The modesty that caused such flibbertigibbeting was not a bad instinct. What I had to learn was that it is also graceful to show that you are validating someone else’s opinions — which means to simply say “You’re welcome,” not as an egotist, but as someone confident you at least occasionally have something to give to others and the world as a whole.
    It took SO LONG to learn that, though …

  • Larry Parker

    I neglected to give you kudos before.
    That was a wonderful (and thought-provoking) post on gratitude vs. anger.

  • Cully

    Therese writes of her patron saint, Therese of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa:
    How do those two great souls keep smiling through their crap?
    jmho, They knew that God loves them. God never intends any thing to mar or diminish our happiness and well-being. God loves all of us and if we would only stop buying into the b.s. that says God is angry and vengeful and start being thankful – I mean stop and think about it, all of us reading this blog have computers… we’re very lucky, so many other people don’t even have the hope of having a computer. And tonight, when we get ready for dinner we will smell the food and think “yum yum”, and the list goes on. So what Therese and Teresa did was try to bring good things to others who couldn’t grasp how much God loves us all.
    Then Therese wrote:
    I read somewhere that by saying thank you, we change our orientation from ourselves to another: that gratitude is an act of selflessness and is the purest form of prayer. Does this mean that I’m selfish and self-absorbed if I can’t be grateful when I’m mad?
    I know I have a ways to go in this whole Oprah-ish positive-thinking stuff. I need your help. Teach me how to be grateful even in those very painful, I-really-wish-I-were-dead moments. Like Mother Teresa and my patron saint were. Because I’ve got the easy part down.
    We all need to take “baby steps”, in time we will be able to change everything but for now…
    God, grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    the courage to change the things I can;
    and the wisdom to know the difference.
    Blessings and hugz,

  • Larry Parker

    And as far as paying it forward (or should I say, paying it Forward) with my gratitude …
    Remember on Seinfeld when they should shout “Serenity now!!!” ?!?!
    My new mantra isn’t the Serenity Prayer, but something even simpler (and more soul-baring): Mark 9:24, Mark 9:24, Mark 9:24 …
    PS — Did not like the movie Pay It Forward AT ALL. Random kindness turned into random brutality is never “inspiring,” IMHO.

  • chine
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