There’s a cure for complainers

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Maybe you know the fellow. The one for whom nothing is ever right. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, his boss is a jerk, the food is lousy … he has a gripe for every situation. He’s never happy, content or satisfied. He looks for fault and finds it. He points fingers and blames everyone and everything — except himself, of course. He offers no solutions because he can’t see any. He’s the friend or family member you would most like to avoid because his ill temper can quickly turn a joy-filled room into a negative and pessimistic atmosphere.

If you’re on the receiving end of his many complaints, consider this: The complainer in your life really doesn’t want to argue. However, ignoring him will only make him grumble and growl louder and longer. Your complainer actually yearns to be understood. He has a need to have his concerns and frustrations acknowledged. And there’s only one thing that may begin to quiet his clamoring — an empathetic response.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy that is sorrowful for the complainer. And empathy is not apathy that doesn’t care how the grumbler feels. Empathy is also not agreeing with the complainer’s outcries. Empathy is putting yourself in the grumbler’s shoes and understanding his feelings.

How in the world, you might ask, is it possible to put yourself in his shoes when you’re struggling to understand his point of view and why he feels the way he does?

In order to do this, I think we must look beyond or beneath our complainer’s complaints. I suspect we will find a boatload of worry, fear, depression, discouragement. And these emotions frequently result in a barrage of grievances that actually mask the basis for his woes. Perhaps the protests are an unconscious way of getting our attention. Or perhaps it’s the complainer’s attempt to do something — anything — because he doesn’t know what else to do to improve his situation, since he is so consumed with his worries and discouragement.

I’m reminded of a story that I’ve read and heard in various forms many times. But certain elements are consistently told. Whether titled “The Devil’s Auction” or “The Devil’s Yard Sale” or “The Devil Is Going Out of Business,” apparently the Devil had an array of tools attractively displayed and priced — envy, jealousy, hatred and pride, among many others. Then, off in a corner by itself was a harmless-looking, wedge-shaped, well-worn tool that had a higher price than any of the others.

Someone asked the Devil what this tool was, and he answered, “That’s discouragement.” When he was asked why it cost more than all the others, he boasted, “With this tool I can get into a man’s heart and mind and do just about anything I want.”

The Devil knew that nothing could paralyze, stop or control us more than discouragement. Discouragement can keep the unemployed unemployed; the homeless homeless; the sick sick; and the complainer complaining. Discouragement drains us of courage, vision, faith and expectation.

In one version of this story that I heard, someone asked the Devil if the tool worked on everyone. And the Devil quietly and reluctantly answered, “No, it doesn’t work on a person with a grateful heart.”

I first heard this version at a time in my own experience when I found myself complaining about this and then that. The idea of feeling grateful was difficult when it seemed that nothing was going my way. It eventually became clear to me that no end was in sight for my bitterness and discontentment, and my discouragement was more than I could bear. Still, I longed for solutions.

How could I cultivate a grateful heart?

One day during my Bible study time, I came across three verses in the first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians that appeared to hold the secret to cultivating a grateful heart: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

I began thanking God with all my heart for any and all good in my life, whether seen in small or big ways. Moment by moment prayer was indeed required, but my prayers were not petitions to God. Instead, they were affirmations of His presence and power. These affirmations also became declarations and promises to not allow any circumstance to take my joy from me. My discouraged heart was soon replaced with a grateful heart filled with encouragement. And my reasons for complaining diminished till they disappeared.

As we acknowledge God’s goodness in our lives, we begin to believe He has a perfect plan and purpose for us. Our eyes are opened to the good that is always at hand, and gratitude keeps us expectant of more good.

So, for the complainer in your life, try a little empathy. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with complaints to voice, take it from an experienced complainer — cultivating a grateful heart is your best bet for an improved outlook and better future.

What do you take for granted?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, I suspect we all are unaware of many things that we take for granted.

To take something for granted is to not appreciate its full value. This can occur for something that we experience on a day-to-day basis, and so we become accustomed to its availability. For example, we often forget how valuable food, clean water and shelter are to us — or even our many freedoms — until we don’t have them.

To take someone for granted is to not acknowledge the difference they make in our lives. This may mean not showing appreciation to our parents, teachers or siblings for the help they give us throughout our lives. In addition, we probably never think about many other people without whom our world would be very different. People with essential skills and responsibilities such as tradesmen, engineers and factory workers, who in turn make available and accessible the many things we tend to take for granted.

I’m reminded of a story I was recently introduced to — the life story of Charles Plumb, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years in a communist prison camp. He survived his ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from his experience. It was one of his lessons that a friend shared with me.

Apparently, Plumb and his wife were in a restaurant one evening when a man who had been sitting at another table approached. This man recognized Plumb and knew he had flown jet fighters from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War. And, he knew Plumb had been shot down. To Plumb’s surprise, this man served on the same carrier, and Plumb was even more surprised to learn this man had packed his parachute the day he was shot down. With this news they shook hands, and the man exclaimed, “I guess it worked!” Plumb expressed his gratitude, responding, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

While that was the end of their exchange, the incident kept Plumb from sleeping that night. He tried to imagine the man in his Navy uniform and wondered how many times he could have seen him in passing without any acknowledgment. Fighter pilots had a tendency to not give much attention to those who were “just sailors,” Plumb said. But now, Plumb said he couldn’t stop thinking about the many hours this sailor had spent “weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.”

Since this encounter, Plumb started asking his audiences, “Who’s packing your parachute?”

Plumb, of course, wasn’t referring to a physical parachute like the one this sailor had packed for him. In fact, Plumb says he needed many other kinds of parachutes to survive his six-year experience in the hands of his enemies and also mentions his mental, emotional and spiritual parachutes. He reminds everyone to be sure we recognize all the people who pack our parachutes, which prepare us to weather whatever storms lie ahead in our lives.

And by the same token, perhaps we also should be asking ourselves, “How’s our parachute packing?” Our lives interconnect with many people during our lifetimes, and we knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, make an impact and difference in the lives of the people who cross our paths. Parachute packing is important work, and the job we do could save a life. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our everyday lives, we forget that we do make a difference, and that what we say and do matters to someone.

Perhaps, too, we have a tendency to focus too much on what is wrong in our lives. After all, we’re trained quite well by the news media, which generally accentuate the negative aspects of life — deaths, disasters, diseases. We probably all have days when we wonder if anything went right in the world. But an excess of the stressing all that’s bad about life can lead to a tendency to take for granted all that’s good. Sometimes we don’t realize what was good until it’s gone. We must not wait until we lose something to place a high value on what we have. We can begin now to appreciate, treasure and nurture all we’ve been blessed with.

I think one of our country’s greatest blessings is the U.S. soldier, who perhaps is best exemplified by the scripture: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:8).

When I think about things I take for granted — my air-conditioned home or clean running water, along with all the other comforts and luxuries my home includes — I can’t help but think about our soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Perhaps we could all give pause every day, not just on days like Memorial Day, and consider what yesterday was like for our soldiers — were they able to sleep; take a shower; have a hot, cooked meal; drink some cold water? We can make certain we don’t take for granted the sacrifices of America’s soldiers and make sure we’re thankful they are willing to be there for us and do whatever is asked of them. And, we can make sure we express our thanks when given the opportunity.

The peopling of the world is surely part of the divine design of Love. We are people who need people, and God has tenderly provided for the meeting of our needs with the gift of one another. May we someday let ourselves love one another; then not only will we never take anyone or anything for granted, but also we will have no basis for hatred or war.

An attitude of gratitude

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Recently, while on vacation in Boston, I was sitting in the café at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. Appropriately titled, the café named “Quotes,” featured a wall presentation of lighted statements from various authors, leaders, and thinkers. As I sat enjoying my coffee and crème brule, a quotation appeared that captured my attention because in many ways it described the roadmap for progress in my life.

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
(Melody Beattie, Author of Gratitude: Affirming the Good Things in Life)

I’ve come to understand gratitude as an attitude that is consciously chosen regardless of circumstances. Gratitude is a viewpoint from which our life can be observed. For we either see what is there or we dwell on what is not. Gratitude lights our view to what is already there. Gratitude helps us to see what is right and good in our life. Gratitude has the power to broaden our vision and help us see options and prospects that were only obscured from our point of view. There are many examples in my life that have taught me more about the transforming power of gratitude.

I was a young child when I first witnessed this power. It was a time when my mother and I were without a home and income and had little else. This time of my youth was the bleakest it would ever be in my life, materially speaking. However, as I’ve often said, it was the gift of gratitude my Mom and I gave to each other that brought peace during those uncertain days and actually created a vision and expectancy of a brighter tomorrow. Fear, doubt and worry being replaced with an attitude of gratitude enabled opportunities to be seen that led to a new career for my mom and a successful and happy life in a new city for us both.

I was in college when I again witnessed the effect of gratitude. My mom very much wanted me to go to college, an opportunity she never had. I never had a doubt that college was where I was suppose to be, but neither my mom nor I knew where the tuition money would come. My mom had saved enough for my first semester, but I literally headed off to college on a leap of faith. I had learned well in my early childhood that how I think and perceive my life experiences could impact the finale of each experience. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude kept me centered with confident resolve on present needs, one semester at a time. Remaining optimistic and expectant, adequate funds were earned, borrowed or granted throughout my college journey.

William James, 19th century American psychologist and philosopher said, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” A contemporary of James who was an influential teacher, religious leader and author, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in her best-selling book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “We are all sculptors, working at various forms, molding and chiseling thought.” Then Eddy speaks of the choice we have in which model we place our gaze upon and how this choice determines the outcomes of our life. She further wrote, “We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives.” Throughout my life, I have seen the results of an attitude of gratitude, decidedly shaping every experience, every job, and every relationship.

My most recent encounter with gratitude led to remodeling my present home and loving my “new” old home – something I once thought impossible. The year 2001 brought many financial changes to my life. My job was cut to part-time, our savings invested in the stock market dramatically diminished and the hope of building a new home was all but lost. The depression of these times for a while caused tunnel vision where it was difficult to see anything but lack and loss. But it was gratitude that widened my frame of vision and enabled me to conceive ideas for my current home I never considered or thought possible.

One of the opening lines of Eddy’s book, Science and Health, is, “The time for thinkers is come.” This is true for all times. Be a thinker. You always have a choice in how you think. Choose an attitude of gratitude. Living your life from a grateful heart will help you overcome every hill you have to climb. I promise you, it is impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. Gratitude will hold you in the spirit of joyful expectation. You will maintain a focus on what is really important. And you will keep a powerful antidote for any problem in your pocket – gratitude.

Gratitude, hay baling and pedicures

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” I think that’s how the song begins. But it’s not so easy in summertime when one lives on a Texas ranch and it’s hay season.

My mama says she didn’t send me to college to end up driving a tractor. To get my hands dirty. But almost immediately upon the completion of my undergraduate degree, I married a Texas boy and began life on a cattle ranch.

Most of the time, I tell my friends my life is much like Eva Gabor on the U.S. 1960’s sitcom, “Green Acres.” I go shopping. I get monthly pedicures. I go to the hairdresser twice a month. And I get my acrylic nails put on and filled. This also requires two appointments each month. And I never, ever, ever drive a tractor without first putting on my lipstick.

Today was the first day of this year’s hay season. I admit this time of year is a love, sometimes hate, relationship. The long workdays and late night dinners are not much fun. But there is something about driving a tractor that I do enjoy. The smell of freshly cut grass is most pleasing. And I especially relish the broad view the hay fields provide as I move along.

The big horizon before my gaze reminds me how infinite life is. And whatever troubles have been burdening my heart begin to seem quite small in contrast.

Inevitably, the last stanza of a favorite hymn comes to mind:

“Green pastures are before me, Which yet I have not seen; Bright skies will soon be o’er me, Where darkest clouds have been. My hope I cannot measure, My path in life is free; My Father has my treasure, And He will walk with me.”

As I press on under the hot Texas sun and sing these words, my heart is filled with peaceful appreciation of the moment. I take a deep breath, wipe the sweat off my brow, and sing the words again. Then, I start to reflect on how attitudes and perceptions impact my life.

As I grew up, my mama always encouraged me to look for what is good in everything. And to be grateful. Time and again her advice proved to be right, and I learned how gratitude was a viewpoint from which my life could be observed, helping me to see what was there instead of what was not. Gratitude had the power to broaden my vision and to help me see options and prospects that were only obscured by a limited point of view.

My most vivid recent example of this came with the remodel of the little farmhouse where my husband and I have lived the past 25 years. It began as our starter house and grew into the home where we would raise our only child. Now, it has become the place where we may spend our retirement years.

For most of these years, I was ready to move out. Ready to build a new house. And consequently, I spent much of my time being unhappy about where I was and looking forward to something that might never be.

A friend, who is a talented artist with an interior decorator’s eye, was visiting one day and began pointing out various special and unique features she saw in our little farmhouse. She saw details I had never appreciated and valued before–mostly because I was consumed with focusing on what I didn’t like. My heart was so set on building a new house, I wasn’t even considering ideas on how to improve where I was.

A truly miraculous thing happened — something I didn’t expect, wasn’t looking for, and would never have imagined. My view of my little farmhouse changed. As my appreciation for it grew, I began to imagine ways to remodel. Very soon, the idea of building a new house was no longer even a consideration. I wanted to stay where I was. I was totally happy and satisfied where I was. Today, with the remodeling almost complete, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Once again, gratitude helped me to see present possibilities, and that new view changed my life.

My first day of driving the tractor this year was accomplished with me feeling quite satisfied with and proud of my hay loader skills. Those folks familiar with this type of work will appreciate my meaning when I say I didn’t miss any bales!

A thumbs up from my husband affirmed, “Good job!” And I was on my way to cook supper.

Summertime in Texas means many more days like today. But tomorrow’s not a hay baling day! I have my pedicure appointment!

A day for thanksgiving

by Annette Bridges. © 2005. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 24, 2005. A national day of Thanksgiving.

Homecoming celebrations. Platefuls of turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and pecan pie. Perhaps a feast less about food and more about family.

Americans gather with their loved ones and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. Even when material treasures appear sparse, Americans remember the intangibles held close to heart and are grateful to be together.

Days of thanksgiving began long before a national proclamation was made. For the Plymouth colonists, it was a celebration of food and feasting following their first harvest.

During the 1700’s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout the year, but it was a day set aside for prayer and fasting rather than feasting.

Later in the 19th century, states would designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or a bountiful crop.

It was in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of a national Thanksgiving holiday. And it was in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the national holiday the fourth Thursday in November.

Every Thanksgiving, thousands of families celebrate without a father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister.

This year is no exception with thousands of American troops deployed overseas during the holidays. This year is different for my family because this year my family is among those thousands.

Our daughter married a little over two years ago, only six days before our son-in-law was to begin his Air Force training. Training completed, he left the country a couple of months ago on his first deployment. And our daughter, with her puppy in tow, returned to mom and dad’s house.

Difficult times, yes. But we keep our soldier ever in our thoughts, conversation and prayers.

Although he will not be present at our Thanksgiving dinner table, his empty place will be set. We will not raise our forks without first expressing our gratitude for his service to our nation. We will honor his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own. We will pay tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. And we will praise and pray for all servicemen and women and their families.

These words by Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, have become part of our daily prayer: “…may their love of country and their faithful service thereof, be unto them life-preservers!”

I must admit, holiday seasons have come and gone year after year without me giving more than a passing thought to the sacrifices made by our military and their families. This year I vow to begin a new tradition. From now on, we will have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving. To never forget again the thousands that are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

Perhaps you would like to join us?

Set an empty place at your Thanksgiving dinner table, too. And from table to table, we’ll give thanks all across America for our selfless heroes. And pray for their safe return home.

My family will most certainly have reason to feast again when our soldier comes home. A day for thanks giving, indeed!