/karen/

I appreciate

Thursday, 19 March, 2009

Recently Nicole's Sola Panel post on appreciation and approval went live. I've been thinking about it ever since I edited it last week, but then I realised today that what I wanted to write about was only tangentially related to it—well, skewed more to the appreciation side of things, rather than approval. Appreciation is something I've been thinking about quite a bit because the issue (can it be called an “issue”?) keeps popping up for me in my own life, and therefore during counselling. I know that I feel it keenly—I mean, I feel unappreciation keenly. It hurts like nothing else. It also makes me angry like nothing else.

I know exactly why—it all rooted in childhood stuff and not feeling appreciated when I was growing up. And I know that the anger is rooted in a kind of “rightness”—by which I mean that it's really sad people didn't appreciate me or the things I did for them. But it's only “a kind of rightness” because the temptation for me is to sin in my anger instead of leaving things be and thinking, “Well, so they didn't appreciate me or the things I did for them. That's sad, but there's nothing I can do about it; I can't change them and I can't make them appreciate me. So I'm just going to have to leave it.”.

So I want to spend a bit of time thinking about appreciation and all the things that surround it. I want to clarify some of the thoughts that have been zooming around my brain. And I want to tell you some things about me because, among the myriad things this blog does, I want it to be a vehicle by which you understand me better as a person, not as a digital personality putting things out there into cyberspace.

1.

Firstly, appreciation is a very nice and a very good thing. Don't ever let anyone let you feel like it's wrong to want to be appreciated. Hopefully you know what appreciation feels like. I'm glad I do. Two people in particular epitomise it for me. The first is my old boss at UNSW. At the end of every day, she would say to me as I was going out the door, “Thank you for today!” I didn't work heaps closely with her; most of the time, she was in her office doing her own work, while I was out with my other colleagues working the front desk of the faculty office. But she gave me the feeling that she knew and understood the work I was doing at the time, and she was grateful for the skills and assets I brought to the job. I knew without her saying it explicitly or frequently that she appreciated my knowledge of technology, my initiative and my ability to work my way around new pieces of software (this was during a time when UNSW was upgrading to new systems that no one really knew how to use). I also knew that she appreciated my speed and efficiency. I wasn't the perfect employee, and she wasn't the perfect boss, but she was pretty close.

The second person who epitomises appreciation for me is Greg. Again, during the time I worked for him, I felt the same things without him having to say very much very often: I knew he was grateful for my skills, initiative and efficiency, and knowing how much he appreciated having me work for him made me want to try that much harder for him.

There's just something absolutely lovely about appreciation besides the warm fuzzies you get when you feel like someone appreciates you. It's almost like it frees you as a person to be yourself—to grow in maturity and stature—not so that you become arrogant, proud and in danger of hubris, but it makes you want to become a better person. Indeed, you even strive for it. Furthermore, if you stuff up, it makes you feel like it's not the end of the world—that you haven't vastly disappointed your boss and you are not the lowest of the low for making mistakes.

Appreciative people are a joy to be around. I'm sure you know what I mean. If you know someone like that, you naturally gravitate towards them because they give you back so much.

2.

Appreciation is found in the Bible. Consider the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: the master, upon returning and finding that two of his servants have carried out his instructions, says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” From memory, C.S. Lewis says something to the effect that these words are something Christians look forward to hearing from the mouth of God (I think he wrote this in “The Weight of Glory”, but at the moment I'm nowhere near my bookshelf so can't look it up.)

Of course, I must proffer the standard qualification at this point: nothing we can do can contribute to our salvation, for only by grace alone can we be saved (Romans 3, etc.) But once saved, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we can strive to live lives pleasing to God (Eph 5:10, Col 1:10, 1 Thess 4:1, 1 Tim 2:3, 5:4, 13:16, 13:21). Obviously God doesn't need our help because he is God and can do all things himself. Still, isn't it lovely that he can be pleased with us ...

3.

Let's look at the subject from the other angle for a moment: instead of thinking about how others appreciate us, let's think about how we appreciate others. Generally, Australia is not a very appreciative nation. I wonder if it comes from the Tall Poppy Syndrome—how we love to cut down those who dare to rise above us instead of giving them credit where credit is due. Isn't it interesting that superheroes came out of America (arguably the “gods” of America, flawed as they are), but in Australia we celebrate the not-so-heroic—the ANZACs, Ned Kelly, our convict heritage. I think that, generally, we find it hard to express appreciation, and when we do, we have to work hard to do it. Consider 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (emphasis mine):

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

4.

So think, for a moment, about your appreciation of God and all the things he has done for you—saving you from your sins, predestining you for eternal life, freeing you from slavery to death, giving you the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc. etc. Do you appreciate these things? Are you thankful for what God has done in your life? Are you thankful for what God continues to do in your life—causing the sun to rise every morning and the rain to fall on the crops; helping you stay alert enough as you drive to work; providing for you food, clothing and shelter, friends and family ... Did you think you acquired all these things yourself? Do you believe you can live independent of him? Would you rather forego his help? Or would you rather cut him down to size like a Tall Poppy?

Do you really appreciate God? And if so, how do you express that appreciation?

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:28-29)

The same goes for the people around us: do we appreciate them, and how do we let them know if we do? When we moved house a couple of months ago, I went through all the cards I'd been given by various people over the years and culled them. Most of them ended up recycling because they didn't say much more than “Dear Karen” and “With love from ...”. But the ones I kept had personal messages in them, and many of them were quite lovely. Indeed, reading through a whole stack of them at once was quite moving, and it made me feel appreciated and loved.

5.

Appreciation, it seems to me, springs from thankfulness—thanksgiving—gratitude. But gratitude is something we have to work at. We do it by acknowledging our humble state, our spiritual poverty and our utter helplessness and dependence on God. We do it by recognising the contribution that other people make to our lives. We do it by seeing ourselves for what we are—individuals connected to the wider community functioning as part of that community:

Independence? That's middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth. (George Bernard Shaw)

It is interesting the number of times the New Testament stresses thankfulness to God:

And then there are general verses about thanksgiving:

All this is immensely challenging to me. As much as I thirst for appreciation, I know I need to work at being more appreciative myself. I need to remember to thank God for getting me through the day. I need to make a point of thanking Ben for taking out the garbage. I need to be less tardy when thanking that relative for their birthday card.

I think part of the reason why I am so reluctant to express my gratitude is because I don't feel like I owe anyone anything. But appreciation doesn't come from that; it's mine to give or to withhold. I need to stop thinking inside that box.

6.

One final point: I was talking about a lot of this stuff with my counsellor last week. I was also feeling hugely sad about it. It seemed to me I was stuck: I grew up low on appreciation and so I constantly feel like I have this void wanting to be filled. But as I said before, you can't force people to appreciate you. They either do or they don't. (And if they don't, it doesn't do any good to say rude things about them under your breath ...) But if they don't, the void still remains.

My counsellor then said something surprising: she told me to appreciate myself. I didn't really understand what she meant so she explained it a bit more. She said that every time I did something I was happy with, I should give myself a mental pat on the back and say to myself, “Well done! That was great!” She said I should feel good about myself for achieving something or doing something well instead of feeling sad that other people don't recognise or acknowledge it. She told me to dwell on that feeling. She said, “You know that appreciation feels like. Feel it for yourself. And that way, when others don't appreciate what you've done or who you are, it won't hurt as much because you've already given yourself something of what you need.” (My paraphrase.)

This seemed like slightly weird advice, but in a sense, it's what I've been reading from Cary Tennis on Salon.com for a while now. Consider this:

So the bit about your relationship with your parents, I relate to that. Somehow you have to give yourself what they didn't give you. You step in as the adult and say, OK, man, I know you are suffering here, and I give you permission to be only yourself! You move that relationship out of the past, which you can't change, and into your present, your inner life, your symbolic life so you can change it.

Try that. Just step in there as the adult figure and give yourself what you need. You are the only one who can provide that now. Your parents are not ever going to do it. You have to move that whole struggle into your own sphere of influence.

For instance, in my own case, I now have to parent my dad—literally but also figuratively. I have to help the actual dad. But internally, I also have to create for myself the decisive, clearheaded man I once needed him to be. He is never going to give me that. I have to create a decisive, clearheaded persona to guide me in the present so that, in a sense, I become my own father.

We have to become for ourselves the parents we need. In your case, you need to become for yourself a parent who says, “My son, even if you didn't have an ounce of talent or brilliance I'd still love you without reservation till the end of my days.” (Source)

and

In situations where we feel that we have been ignored by the most important person in our lives, we may question our own validity; we may be deeply scarred; we may question our own right to live; later in life, we may need to be told that we are acceptable, that these things we have experienced and held in are no threat to our existence. The problem is, a child cannot do this. A child cannot parent himself, as it were. But an adult can. When you reach adulthood and recognize for the first time how many things you needed as a child and did not get, you can do something about it. As adults we can find someone to fill in and say, “Yes, that's perfectly understandable; it makes sense you would feel that way and want to respond in that way. But that happened when you were a child and now you are an adult, and here is what you need to do today to make yourself better.”

It turns out that although we can find instruction in these matters, such as spelled out above, we have to do most of the actual work ourselves. If we seek, say, a partner, or a child, or a worldwide audience of admirers to constantly affirm our right to exist, we get in trouble. We ask for too much. We ask for what is inappropriate. We distort our relations with others. So once we discover what has happened to us and why we feel the way we do, we have to take responsibility for living with it in our own way, and not placing the burden on others. (Source)

Cary is right: if we are constantly seeking appreciation and affirmation from others, we will get into trouble. It's too much, it's inappropriate and it distorts our relationship with them beyond the appropriate boundaries of, say, employer and employee, pastor and congregation, or even friendship. No one person is ever going to be able to fill the void I feel. Even if there was more than one, it still wouldn't be enough. You can't always have your own personal cheerleading squad.

Now for the qualification: appreciating oneself does not entail boasting, being proud in the sinful sense or lording it over others. It is not saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” like the tax collector in Luke 18:11-12. It is feeling appropriately pleased with oneself. It is acknowledging to yourself that you did something good—something that God would even be pleased with. It is taking quiet satisfaction in one's own achievements. It is revelling in the rightness of what God created you to be.

You may already be doing this without thinking about it. I think most people do it automatically because they've been coached from childhood to take appropriate pleasure in their gifts and achievements. Their parents gave them appropriate appreciation when they were growing up, and taught them to appreciate themselves appropriately as they became adults, so they emerged as confident young men and women, secure and sure of themselves. It's just that not all of us had that privilege, and some of us still need to work at it.

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Other comments

I appreciate you a lot! I appreciate that you’re in my bible study group. I appreciate that I get to see you at church. And I appreciate this sort of post the best. The sort that causes me to think!
And I also appreciate you, just because you’re you. 
None of which necessarily helps you appreciate yourself. But I do.

I agree with George.

It’s sad the stuff that happens in our childhoods that means we have a distorted view of certain things in adulthood. That stuff about being your own parent was very interesting.  A bit sad, but interesting.

I appreciate your faithfulness.  I appreciate your skills of organisation, even when you don’t feel like being the organiser.  I appreciate your creativity, your passion for words, your delight in cute things and the way you’re constantly sharing ideas and the things you’ve learned.  I appreciate the way you’re constantly trying to work out who God wants you to be, even when things are tough.

I’m glad we’re friends.  smile

Thanks guys! Thanks for the kind words. I’m so glad you’re my friends too! smile

Thanks Karen: what you said about appreciating yourself was just the thing I was trying to express to Jon the other day and you shared it so clearly. So thanks. ^_^ And, to join the throng, you’ve certainly made my life richer and wiser in the time that I’ve known you and I’m always grateful for it. Love you to bits, gorgeous. ^-^

Dear Karen - I give thanks everyday that I have you as my daughter and have never stopped appreciating your talent, your generosity and capacity to light up people’s lives. If the message hasn’t come through all these years then I must be even more gushy and demonstrative than before! Thank you for being this wonderful person in my family.

Posted by JC on 25 March, 2009 2:46 PM


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