The Simplest Way to Find a Blessing in Every Moment

“To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly. Parents need to bless their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, friends their friends. In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings.” 

—Henri Nouwen


Photo Credit: Bigstock (Flynt)

Usually, my wife is the recipient of my teenage son’s recommended reading list. So, a couple of weeks ago, when he handed me a book and said, “You’ve got to read this,” I didn’t ask any questions. I just started reading.

One-hundred and forty pages later, I came to this scene:

A Native American elder is standing in an icy-cold lake with a delinquent youth—a kid so consumed with rage that he is destroying his life and the lives of many others. Though the kid has tried to control his anger, he has had little success. The elder hands the boy a stick and tells him the left side of the stick represents his anger and the right side represents his happiness. Then, he instructs the boy to break off the left end of the stick. The boy does so, and the elder points out that the stick still has a left end. He instructs the boy to break it off again. And, once again, the elder points out the stick still has a left end.

The book reminded me of three essential lessons I’ve learned about anger and resentment during my last two decades as a psychologist and my last four decades as a human being:

  1. Anger cannot be erased completely. You can’t rid yourself of anger—or any unpleasant feeling, for that matter—by trying to get rid of it. And if you try, you will destroy any chance of happiness in the process. Every moment spent trying to erase anger is a moment of potential joy wasted. Instead, we must allow both our anger and our joy to co-exist. Then, we can choose which one to cultivate. We can choose which end of the stick to sharpen.
  2. Anger isn’t always a bad thing. It has some truths to teach us. For instance, sometimes our anger is telling us we are worthier than we’ve been treated. Sometimes, it’s telling us we need to set healthier boundaries. Sometimes, anger is telling us that the world is really broken and the things that make us angriest are probably the things we’re here to do something about.
  3. The real problem isn’t anger; the real problem is what anger gives rise to in us. If we focus exclusively on expressing our anger, we cultivate resentment, and resentment only gives rise to more anger. But if we focus instead on feeling our anger—experiencing all of it rather than acting out some of it—then we become aware of the fear, sadness, and grief beneath it. And these don’t give rise to more anger; they give rise to healing and forgiveness and redemption.

I suspect Aidan gave the book to me, rather than his mom, because he watched me have a very rough summer. Struggling to balance my work with the demands of caring for my kids, I gradually sharpened the left edge of my stick. And I knew I was doing it. So, I tried all sorts of tricks to get my anger and resentment under control. Prayer. Meditation. Writing. A gratitude journal. I tried to break my anger off in countless ways.

To no avail.

But after reading the book, I quit trying to eliminate my anger and, instead, I remembered the wisdom of Henri Nouwen:

In every moment, we have a choice between being a blessing or a curse.

After reading Aidan’s book, I decided to simplify my days and my heart a little bit. I decided I would try to focus on being a blessing to those around me, rather than cursing them with my resentment. I’d let the people I love know about the good things I see at the center of them. I’d even watch for the good heart underneath their bad habits, and if I spoke about anything, I’d speak about that heart.

When we simplify life like this, a simple beauty emerges.

Our sense of powerlessness evaporates and we are flooded with the power to choose. Our sense of scarcity goes into hibernation, and our sense of abundance awakens. Our loneliness dwindles and our experience of being connected to everyone and everything multiplies. As we focus on becoming a blessing, a funny thing starts to happen: we begin to feel more blessed.

What if every moment is an opportunity to receive a blessing, by becoming one?

What if this week, in each and every moment, we asked ourselves one simple question: “Which end of the stick do I want to give this moment to? Do I want to fill this place with a curse or a blessing?”

It’s the simplest, most powerful choice you will ever make.

Indeed, it has the power to change everything.

One blessed moment at a time.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

42 thoughts on “The Simplest Way to Find a Blessing in Every Moment

  1. Peace, love, contentment, non-harming, compassion, surrender to good, truth and the possibility of so many more abundant gifts from this practice! Thank you!!!

  2. Kelly, your wisdom and grace are transcendent things. It’s a privilege to know you and to be continually increased by your words. Blessings, Vaughan

  3. Great post, Kelly. Now for the million dollar question…. How do you pass on this information to a co-worker sitting across from you? The lady sitting across from me is mad at everything and everyone and we think she feels that nobody is recognizing her greatness ->which leads to more anger. She would probably REALLY benefit from reading this. Any ideas? 😉

    • How involved personally in her life do you want to be? Do you sincerely care for her enough to listen as she vents? Because in my experience, that might be part of what she needs…someone she can trust enough to talk to in depth. Then perhaps you can steer her onto some self-help books or sites. But it takes time and emotional commitment you may not feel is yours to give at this time…

      • As Mary said, if the situation is right there are some resources you could pass along to her, but she may not want or be able to receive them. In the spirit of the post, I suppose the best thing you can do in any moment is to be mindful of how you might be a blessing to her. Anger pulls for either anger or withdrawal from the other. When you do neither, but find a third way of blessing, something new is born. It is up to her to receive that new thing.

  4. You are such a blessing, not just on my Wednesday mornings but in the perspectives you sharpen and change for the rest of my moments, too.
    I have been pleased, grateful even, for the perspective and soothing that a gratitude focus can give in the midst of unresolved and tempestuous anger. But it does feel like self-soothing rather than a self transformation when compared with the anger-devouring power of becoming a blessing in the myriad small ways available to us. There are opportunities I realize I only have now by the grace of those very things I harbored, fed, and nurtured my anger over. It doesn’t mean I would choose the impetus(es) for my anger, but it does mean I am doubly blessed to be here, now, able to provide what I can and leave what I can better than I found it.
    You’ve surely blessed my meaning-making with your thoughts.

    • Shel, you always bless me with your perspective, as well! In this case, I think you clarified why the focus on gratitude didn’t diminish my anger. My anger this summer was about “me, me, me,” and so gratitude, while a good thing, maintained the focus on me. Focusing on becoming a blessing required a complete surrender of “me.” That insight is invaluable. Thank you!

  5. Happy Wednesday, Kelly.
    Great point about differentiating between resentment and anger. I have a practice that involves identifying WHY I’m angry. I’ve found it very helpful to step back and try and understand how I got where I’m at.
    As far as getting free, forgiveness is a powerful tool. Sometimes it is others, but most often I have to forgive myself.
    The need for self forgiveness continues to take me by surprise.

    • Mike, this is so right on. Why am I angry, and how do I need to forgive myself? If those two questions haven’t been asked first, we’re sort of like the blind leading the blind. Thank you!

  6. “..let the people I love know about the good things I see at the center of
    them. I’d even watch for the good heart underneath their bad habits… Do I want to fill this place with a curse or a blessing?” Choices every waking minute. Thanks, Kelly, for the reminder – one I sometimes need when I feel wronged by something said/done by someone I think shouldn’t say/do those things. Maybe he was angry at the moment. 🙂

  7. Hi Kelly, I just would like to express my gratitude for your honest and genuine expression of life as it is. It makes me feel very connected to you in your struggles. The sense that I am not alone in these feelings of frustration is very soothing. And wise words indeed for how to deal with the anger 🙂 I have been reading your blogs for close to a year now since one of your posts got very famous. I look forward to a new post each week.

  8. Wow!! Your ability to talk about a subject I’m currently dealing with is amazing!! Such impeccable timing!! Thank you for the reminder that I have the opportunity to be a blessing and appreciate the blessings of those people who choose to be in my life. I really liked the story of the elder and the angry young man. I’m taking that thought with me as I proceed through my day today, tomorrow and in the future. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for giving me this stick to attack my life! I have always tried to make the world a better place for everyone around me, but never looked at the effort quite this way. Perspective makes such a difference! You have a gift for framing human actions in such a variety of ways that everyone can gain insight by just reading your words. Keep giving and having a blessed day.

  10. Wow! I soooo needed to hear this today! Things are being re-structured at work and it is causing a lot of grief and insecurity in many people as well as me. I so appreciate your steps to take, especially #3. I plan on focusing on feeling my anger and allowing it to teach me whatever it is trying to teach me at the moment. I see it more as a blessing that way instead of a curse and something that I need to get rid of. Thank you again for sharing your great wisdom! Blessings to you!

    • Jenny, I once heard the Dalai Lama interviewed. The interviewer said they would like to follow him around for a week because he was so peaceful. He told the interviewer, if they followed him around for a weak, they would see all of his anger and irritability and sadness and so on. His peace comes not from not having them but from learning to observe them. May you do the same this week!

  11. After having my heart and spirit broken by someone I loved and trusted, I had a choice: start down the path of forgiveness and stay to attempt to heal the relationship or remove myself to heal alone. I chose to stay. It has not been easy and after five years I still feel anger and resentment occasionally at the injustice and humiliation that was perpetrated against me.
    I read your article with interest, recognising that I have examined my anger to the 10th degree and understand what is perpetuating it but seem helpless to stave it off. I have also recognised my own faults and the need for self forgiveness. But can one truly say they have fully forgiven if they still feel anger and resentment?
    I continually remind my self of my blessings and feel grateful for them and try to see the good in the people who have hurt me but still the background noise of grief and anger that I usually can ignore surprises me at times with its permanence. Perhaps I have not given enough time to allow the process of blessing you describe take full effect?

    • Mary, these are exactly the kinds of question I look forward to discussing in therapy. Unfortunately, in this medium, with so little background information, it would be unwise of me to make suggestions about why you feel stuck. I hope you have or will find a counselor you can ask them of, because they are very wise questions to be asking!

  12. Thank you for that as it is well needed at this time. I’m a teacher in school for behaviour disorders and have a particular child, I’m dealing with in a difficult situation. I very much like to read the book you talked about please.

  13. Loved how your son brought the book and became your teacher. Kids do that. Loved the story of the stick. That’s a powerful picture of what happens when our focus is on anger, even erasing it, breaking it off, we are actually giving anger more space in us. Loved your authentic sharing. Thanks for allowing your places of brokenness and growth to be our teacher. Love to you dear brother.

  14. Hi Kelly. Thanks for the honesty and humility in allowing a teaching to come from the observations of your son. Yet another example of becoming child-like in our faith and perspective. Would you please share the name of book from Henri Nouwen that you reference in your blog? I’d like to read it.

  15. <3 Reading this while sitting here stewing in a small bit of anger, knowing the truth of these words. Thank you

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