Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. I know that it’s the day after Christmas, not Christmas itself, but I’m at my parent’s house and we had lots of company over yesterday. I did get to spend a couple of days with my nephews though, which is always worth it, and I got to watch a bunch of Dr. Who. However, what I wasn’t going to do was write any more blog posts than I needed to, and I had to write a post for my other blog yesterday. So, merry Christmas even though Christmas was actually yesterday. The fact the I felt the need to explain all of that probably says something about me. I generally need to be understood. Honestly, this is something that’s very important to me. I’m not satisfied when people simply accept my mistakes as mistakes or oversights. Instead, I want them to understand why I do things the way that I do them. I think that we all seek for understanding, and we all want approval.

This is something that I see consistently in the gay rights movement. All too often, disagreement is seen to be equivalent to hate precisely because we feel the need for the approval of others. We want people to like us, and we want to like ourselves, and so often we seem to have this overwhelming need to connect the two. If we are not liked by others, then we cannot like ourselves. Similarly, if we are not approved of by others, then we cannot approve of ourselves. Here’s the thing though, all of this comes from an incomplete sense of self. This is not to say that healthy people don’t feel these needs, I think that we all feel the need to be liked and approved. However, we shouldn’t be controlled by those needs. If someone’s disapproval seems to become a sign of disrespect or hate, then I am not seeing myself or seeing God in myself. I am not even seeing what the other person sees in me, instead I am seeing only my exaggerated image of how the other person sees me.

This is something that I’ve written about before, mostly because it is something that I struggle with. I can usually operate without the approval of others. I am capable of putting aside my need for understanding and approval in order to see things as they are, rather than how I am afraid they are or how I wish they could be. However, this isn’t always true. There are time when I need someones understanding or approval. There are many more times when putting aside my own desire for understanding and approval is very difficult. Honestly, I haven’t put a lot of thought into why I struggle with this. It’s probably something I should do. My first impulse is to say that there have been relatively few people in my life who have sought to understand me, but I’m not really sure that this is true. At least, not any more than anyone else today. I recently took a relationship needs test (I like a variety of personality tests… though this wasn’t one of the better ones) which mentioned that I might have a weak sense of self. At moments this is certainly true, but I’m not sure if its true in general. It is, however, something that needs more thought.

So, I got to spend all day yesterday and most of Christmas Eve with my family, including my two nephews, which was a lot of fun! My Christmas gifts were interesting. They were generally what I’d asked for, which included a bottle of Absinthe, a rubix cube (even though I hate puzzles), and sharpening stones for knives. I’ve found that, as I get older, it gets harder and harder to make birthday and Christmas lists. There’s honestly just not that much that I actually want. I asked for the rubix cube, even though I hate puzzles, because teaching myself to work it will be good mental exercise. I looked up the basics of how to do a rubix cube, and I’m already getting fairly good at it. However, getting the final side completed is going to be very challenging. Still, I think it should be fairly interesting.

Thanksgiving and Remembrances

Obviously, I haven’t posted in a while. Part of the reason is that I’ve been fairly busy lately. I spent most of the weekend and beginning of this week making sure that I had all of my papers graded before Wednesday so that I could spend Thanksgiving with my family. Part of the reason is that I did spend Thanksgiving with my family, which meant travel, get-togethers, food, etc. I also think that part of the reason, a subconscious part, is that 1) I’m still not entirely comfortable having followers on this blog and I want to get rid of all of you, and 2) the most significant thing I’ve had to say lately isn’t something that I’m actually comfortable saying yet. In fact, what I’m about to write I’ve told all of one person (my niece), and I had to force myself to tell her. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, in fact I think its a very, very good thing, but its something that is very personal, and very uncomfortable. I’m not used to it yet.

So, giving thanks. There are a lot of things to be thankful for, and something that we do at my church the Sunday before every thanksgiving is take a night to simply share things that we are thankful for. I couldn’t get up and share this, though I wanted to. There are many reasons to be thankful. Many things that should inspire gratitude in us. For one, I have a loving family that gets along well. I live in a safe town. I live in a safe part of time. I have good roommates. I like my apartment complex. I have a job that I thoroughly love. I have good friends who care about me. I have people who know they can depend on me. I have a plethora of amazing books to read. I have access to websites with even more amazing books to read. Let’s face it, even being poor in America isn’t all that bad unless you’re at the very bottom of the barrel. I could go on listing things about my church, the school I’m applying to, friend, hobbies, etc, but I think you get the point. I have a lot to be thankful for.

That being said, I haven’t always been a thankful person. Actually, for a long time I was an extremely ungrateful person. I always wanted more, no matter what. It didn’t matter what I did have. The only thing that mattered to me is what I didn’t have. (Don’t worry, I am actually getting to the point). I’ve mentioned several times that I used to be  (still am all to often) a right bastard. My lack of any form of gratitude was a part of that. There are still things that I’m working on. For instance, my last couple of birthdays have been difficult (hell, birthdays have always been difficult for me). The year before last my birthday was ignored entirely. This came on the tail end of a bad breakup in which the girl that I’d been ‘not-quite-dating’ dumped me and then jumped in bed with someone three days later. Admittedly, that was a low point, and I feel that I wasn’t entirely unjustified in being frustrated with my friends. My birthday this year wasn’t forgotten, a few friends even got together and threw me a party. Honestly, this should have been plenty to satisfy me, but the distinct lack of gifts stood out to me. I went out of my way to be profuse in speaking my gratitude, but I’m not convinced that it was entirely felt. A part of this is that gifts are my primary means of receiving love and affection. If you really want to make my day, send me an encouraging note or give me a little something with a lot of meaning.

I’m not saying that I need big gifts or expensive gifts. Honestly, how much it cost doesn’t matter to me at all. If you can get it for free, all the better. What does matter is the time, thought, and effort that you put into the gift. I have a few rules for gift-giving: 1) the gift should be meaningful to the giver, 2) the gift should be desirable to the recipient, 3) the gift should say something about the relationship between the two, 4) the gift shouldn’t be a necessity. So, the lack of gifts did actually mean something to me. However, I also think that lack of gratitude stayed with me for longer than it should have.

So, the point. One of the things that my church does on our night of gratitude is ask this question: What is one thing that you are thankful for now that you never thought you could be thankful for?

My answer to that question surprised me. I am thankful that God has kept me single for as long as he has. I’m not saying that I don’t still want to get married. I’m not saying that I’ve given up. I am saying this, and I’ve said this part of it several times. God has taught me more through loneliness and broken relationships than through any other single means. It is my utter, complete, and repeated failure with women that has taught be to love other people, and taught me about God’s love for me. This is probably the single most significant change in me over the course of my salvation, and I’ve been thankful for the changes themselves, but never for the process that led to them.

This is the thing that no one ever told me about gratitude. There are many, many levels of gratitude. It’s not simply about saying thank you, nor is it simply about being thankful for the things that you have or the things that you like. I need to be thankful for the things in my life that are good for me, even if I don’t really enjoy them.

Saying thank you and actually being thankful are two different things as well. I can say ‘thank you’ a hundred times and never mean it. However, saying thank you can (and some of the exercises on Happify.com have helped with this) actually help you to be thankful for things. Being thankful is more consistent than simply saying thank you. A simple ‘thank you’ can come out of nothing more complicated than politeness. However, being thankful comes from the heart. It reflects the core of one’s being, and it is one of the things that reflects godliness. We should rejoice and be thankful in general, but we should make special effort to rejoice and be thankful for those things that we are not at first eager to say thank you for.

So… I think at this point I’ve stopped making sense. So, I leave you with this: gratitude that is slow to appear, begruding, and quickly vanishes is less than real. It might be a good step, but it isn’t real. Gratitude that overflows from the heart, that is quick to the tongue, eager to be shared, and doesn’t disappear after being shared is the real thing. Strive for that.