In the first entry for my Year of Living Like Mr. Rogers project, I decided to focus on gratitude.
As a child, watching Mr. Rogers, one of things I remember him often saying was, “Thank you for being you.”
We often thank people, but the unspoken caveat is that they have done something that helps us along. They’ve been kind, or they’ve been helpful. Seldom do we give a sincere “thank you” to the people who are difficult, have spoken hard things to us, or treated us in ways we don’t think are fair.
Mr. Rogers, though, would take a moment to let the hard moment settle in, and then he’d simply say, “Thank you for sharing that.”
Words are easy enough to say, but one always felt as if Mr. Rogers truly meant what he said.
This week I read a moving story from Terri Roberts, the mother of the man who had taken Amish school girls hostage in 2006 and shot them, killing five of them. Although the story focused on the theme of forgiveness, she taught me a powerful truth about gratitude.
Simply stated, she said, “Forgiveness is a choice… Forgiveness isn’t a feeling.”
Too often, we assume that we can’t offer abstract things like forgiveness, love, or gratitude unless we have a feeling driving us to do so. Yet, as Mrs. Roberts points out, those things aren’t feelings. They are choices.
It’s easy to offer gratitude to someone who has made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s not so easy when what they’ve offered has made me feel defensive or exposed in some way.
I was recently given the opportunity to choose gratitude even when I didn’t feel grateful when I was approached by someone who needed to express how I had let her down. It was hard hearing someone speak their truth–a truth that exposed some of my deepest insecurities: that I’ve failed, that I haven’t been enough, and that I might not be enough.
It was tempting to fall into defensiveness, or to try to turn the tables and point out the way this person had let me down. In that moment, though, I chose to be grateful that she felt safe enough to express these feelings to me. I realized that for as hard as it was to hear, it had to be harder for her to speak them.
Choosing gratitude in that moment set me free from all the negative feelings that would put me on edge. I could listen with compassion and understanding. I could hear the hidden, unspoken message that put my fears at ease: This is how you can be enough.
Once my insecurities were laid bare and I chose to hear with a grateful heart what another person had to say, I began the process of becoming the person I want to be.
Gratitude is a choice. When we choose it, our hearts open wide.