some thoughts on half-empty glasses
today we said goodbye to John, our assistant pastor, who is moving on to serve elsewhere. I went up to John to thank him personally – his preaching was my first impression of this church, it was one of the things that drew me there, I had felt starved of good teaching and it was wonderful to find that there was a church in this town where I could get fed.
and tonight he preached about grumbling, and I find myself thinking:
I do grumble a bit, here and there, about stuff to do with our church – mostly just to myself, but I do. But back then I didn’t – back then I was seeing the positive stuff and was very excited about it. And, hey, the positive stuff is still there – it hasn’t changed.
John mentioned the Israelites in the wilderness, who grumbled when they got thirsty, even though they had only recently seen God perform amazing miracles, including parting the water for them to pass through and then drowning the Egyptian army who was pursuing them. You’d have thought they’d still remember how amazing God is and that they’d think: we’re thirsty, ok, no doubt God will provide us with water.
But isn’t this the way we humans tend to be? We can experience amazing things, and get very excited about them, but then – the excitement wears off, and we start taking things for granted. We get used to the good stuff, forget how amazed we were when we first experienced it, and then we’re ready to grumble about the stuff that isn’t so good. It’s a question of which bits we notice, which bits we’re focused on. Like that old glass half-full or half-empty analogy.
Imagine you’re thirsty. Very very very thirsty. You’ve been running a marathon and it’s been an unbearably hot day. You get to the end of the race, and someone offers you some water.
You are very very grateful. At that moment, that’s your focus: someone has given me water. wonderful. thank you.
Then you go home and have a shower and a rest, and you’re telling your wife/husband/friends/whoever about the marathon. You tell them how hot you were, and how wonderful it was to get a drink of water at the end. And how wonderful it feels now to be home and showered and changed and rested.
You appreciate all these things. Right now, it’s all fresh in your mind.
How long before you get back to normal, and start grumbling when you have to wait more than two minutes in the queue for your latte at Starbucks?
Or how about romance – boy meets girl, he asks her out and she is very starry-eyed, this guy seems so nice, he’s funny and intelligent and warm and caring and everything she’s ever wanted in a man. She has been feeling kind of low since her previous boyfriend left her for someone else, in a very hurtful way. She is now basking in this new guy’s attention, she is excited about this new love, she is full of hope. It all seems wonderful.
How long until she starts grumbling about how he leaves his dirty socks on the floor?
But the guy hasn’t changed (at least in my analogy he hasn’t) – he still is funny and intelligent and warm and caring, he still is doing all those things that she appreciated so much early on. But they’ve been living together for a while and she’s now so focused on his dirty socks habit that when he brings her flowers she doesn’t get excited, she hardly notices what the flowers look like. Because at some point she got used to all the positive stuff, so now she can grumble about the stuff she doesn’t like.
My husband and I have been married for nearly seven years now, and of course there are better moments and less fantastic moments. In one of the less fantastic moments I did an exercise just for myself – I took a sheet of paper and started writing down things about him that I value.
I started just jotting down whatever came to mind, with no particular order. At some point I had to go over to the other side of the page.
That helped, because it shifted my focus – instead of looking at the empty half of the glass I was staring at the full half, and it was beautiful. In fact, it looked like a lot more than half a glass.