Stop counting your blessings.
Yes, you read that right. Just stop. Stop counting your blessings; I think I’ve got a better idea.
I’m not averse to enumerated lists, mind you. Heaven’s no! I confess that I’m rather compulsively drawn to the lure of the list. I recently ran across a spiral notebook in a box of old diaries from when I was about 15, that was nothing but lists: lists of everything I’d eaten when I’d been on a diet, (which was always), lists of everything I’d spent (when I was trying to save my allowance for Joni Mitchell’s new “Court and Spark” record), lists of everything I’d borrowed (Diana Swift’s off-the-shoulder Indian print maxi-dress, which I still haven’t returned), and everything I’d loaned (most everything in my closet). There were shopping lists, homework lists and prayer lists. I even ran across a list of every “boyfriend” I’d ever had—it was alarmingly long for a fifteen year-old! Ha!
No, I love me some lists—I write a “to-do” one just about every day of my life—and at the very top of each one is this cryptic reminder: TIS. (I’ll decode that for you later.)
Clearly. I have nothing against writing stuff down—my blessings included. I have kept a gratitude journal often over the years. But, when it comes to blessings, for me, simply making a numbered list just isn’t enough. It can even backfire. Especially when I’m struggling.
But wait! Isn’t that the perfect time to “stop and smell the roses,” to engage an “attitude of gratitude,” to “Praise God from whom all blessings flow?” Isn’t that one of the much-touted benefits of gratitude lists—to make me more aware of all the “good” in my life when the “bad” is sucking the wind out of my sails?
Just last week, I was talking with a friend over tea. She is going through a very difficult transition in her life—learning how to be suddenly single in this wild world, after her husband of nearly 40 years left her. She is heart-broken and confused. She is angry and a little scared.
And then on top of all that very legitimate emotion is this: shame. She has “counted” all of her other blessings—good health, loving children and grandchildren, adequate resources, etc.—and she feels guilty for being sad, and is downright ashamed for feeling angry. In fact, it took her two hours to actually say it to me: I’m so freakin’ angry.
Yes, her “list” of blessings is a very long one. When you “count” them, they, on any given day, could number in the hundreds. But even with 300 things to be glad about, if the one thing to be sad about is a shattered heart, well that may trump everything. Counting—even something as lovely as your blessings—is still, after all, a passive thing. A tallying thing. Perhaps even a comparative thing.
And counting is boring. Remember being “It” playing Hide ‘n Seek, and you had to cover your eyes and count to 100 before you could run around? Didn’t it seem to take forever? The fun part was never the counting—it was the running, and seeking, and connecting—literally, touching (or tagging) another human being. That’s how you’d “win.”
That’s still how you win.
My friend, though struggling, is a clever, clever girl. Among the blessings she has counted, is friendship. But she didn’t sit in her cramped condo and remotely “appreciate” number 12 or 23 or 299 on her list. No, y’all, she engaged that blessing. She packed a little overnight bag, got in her car, and drove to a pretty place (the beach—blessing 10 or 51 or 185) to spend some time with a friend—me. Which, (how fortuitous is this?) topped my very own Hit Parade of blessings. She is my hero du jour.
Another “heroic” friend, a brand new mommy, took to the beach in front of my house this weekend too. Clearly though, she wasn’t feeling all that valiant—the opposite, in fact—she was utterly exhausted and sleep deprived. She had counted her many blessings as we are urged to do, and the disparity between her mood and that long blessings list was impossible to reconcile. Her thoughts had been running muddy and dark. She felt terrible about that. What’s wrong with me? My baby is beautiful and healthy, my husband is supportive and kind, my home is lovely, my friends are loyal…She would need all her fingers and toes plus her baby’s piggy toes, to even begin to count her blessings. And yet…it can get so dark inside.
But there she was, and there I was, on a blanket on a sparkling spring day at the beach with a yummy baby girl between us. Once the counting was done, we talked. My friend “tagged” me, and we talked.
I had no answers, no pat solutions, no “fixes.” But I had time, and presence, and empathy so precise, I could feel my own mind tripping back a couple of decades to my own bleak moments as a new mom—“perfect” babies, husband, home and friends notwithstanding. I told her about that. I felt such kinship and we-are-the-sameness with my young friend. I hope she felt it too. She is not alone.
Neither am I. I still struggle over many things, great and small. My blessings list is longer than this horizon line. And when my thoughts run dark, the contradiction is embarrassing to me. My tendency is to hole up. I think: Really, who wants to hear it?—Look at my life!—This comfy little house on the beach, two amazing boys (men now!), a devoted best friend who also doubles as my husband, lots of faithful and fun girlfriends, robust-ish health—Oh, and I had such intense anxiety yesterday afternoon, I threw up.
Really, cry me a river.
Well, yes, do. Sit on my blanket on this beach and cry with me for a few minutes. Tell me about the time you had an inexplicable mood that scared the shit out of you—or the time you got lost in a dark place and couldn’t move—or the time your gratitude list looked like it had been written in Swahili, and it was incomprehensible to you. Tell me.
And tell me too, if you are struggling now. You don’t have to preface it with disclaimers illustrating how you “shouldn’t” feel the way you do—I know my Mom’s not suffering anymore so I should—yada yada yada. I know there’ll be a better job for me so I shouldn’t—blah, blah, blah. Even, I know God’s got this, so I really ought to…
Stop. Stop counting. You’ve made it to 100 already. You are blessed, I can see that. But you are also human, and humans need to connect. It’s in our DNA. Stop counting and start playing. Tag someone, a safe someone. Start engaging your blessings, whoever they are, whatever they are. You’ve probably got a list somewhere. I do.
And at the top of every list, is this sandbar I inhabit—this beach. Here, I connect with nature and God and you when share your blanket with me, or when you walk with me. But that connection can’t be properly engaged from my bedroom behind hurricane-proof windows. “Counting” it as a blessing is an acknowledgment, yes, but it’s kinda lazy.
I knew, seven years ago, when I moved into this—my little house in the dunes—that even this blessing, this thing I had dreamt of since I was eight, could become prosaic to me if I let it. I could take it for granted.
So I made a rule—I write it in code on the top of my daily to-do list—TIS. Every day, rain or shine—Toes in sand. It reminds me that there is more to life than counting my blessings—there’s living them.
Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! Ready or not, here I come! Meet me in the sand.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532