Once upon a time, a wise man met with a king. The king challenged the man with a riddle. He said, “In my hands is a small bird. Is it alive or dead?” The wise man paused and looked down.
The wise man thought to himself, “If I say it is alive, he will close his hand and crush it. If I say it is dead, he will open his hand and let it fly away.”
The wise man turned his head up and said in a soft yet commanding voice, “It’s all in your hands.”
The same is true for us. Our lives are in our hands. It is not always easy. We face struggle, challenges, and difficulties. But we can derive blessings from them, if we are intentional. We can, to use the phrase of the late Debbie Friedman, “find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”
To make our lives a blessing, we need to make two critical choices: count our blessings and speak our blessings.
Counting our blessings
As a father of two young children, I am truly blessed. Yet, that’s easy to forget at 3:00 a.m. when one child’s loud crying wakes up the other.
One of the ways I remind myself is by following an ancient Jewish custom. In Judaism, the first thing we are supposed to do each morning is sit up and say the words,
I am grateful to you, Oh God, who has restored my soul from sleep and given me the breath of life.
No sighing. No turning our pillows over and burying our heads in them. We recognize the blessing of life. We prime ourselves to live with gratitude. We count our blessings and find happiness in them.
It is not enough, however, to recognize and count our blessings. We have to say them, too. Acknowledge them. Speak them.
That’s why the ancient sages urged us to say 100 blessings a day. Something magical happens when we give expression to our feelings, when we use words to show gratitude.
About a month ago, I saw an example of this magic. I was in my office when a member of my congregation came by. He had a burning question.
“I was dining at a restaurant in New York,” he began. “A few tables away from me a man stood up and proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes, and everybody in the restaurant cheered. Then the man walked quietly over to a corner, put on a yarmulke, and said some type of blessing. His and his fiance’s eyes filled with tears. Rabbi, do you have any idea what blessing he said?”
I recited a blessing I thought it might be, and he said, “Yes, that’s it! Do you have a copy?” “Sure,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“I am planning to propose to my girlfriend this weekend, and I want to say it with her.”
With tears in my eyes, I handed him the blessing.
How a blessing works
Blessings express our feelings. They need not be traditional ones. They simply need to come from the heart. When they do, they can change lives.
I experienced this truth near the end of my grandfather’s life. We were very close. Up until his death, I tried to talk to or visit him every day. We would usually end our conversations with my saying “Talk to you tomorrow.” We did not say, “I love you.” He was not a warm fuzzy kind of guy, and it just did not feel right.
But during the last few weeks of his life, something changed. Perhaps it was the birth of my daughter or his declining condition. Whatever the cause, our moments became more infused with meaning.
When I said, “I love you”
A month before my grandfather died, I was sitting by his bed, talking to him. As I got up to leave, I felt a twitch in my stomach. Turning to him, I said, “Grandpa, I love you.”
He didn’t say anything. Our connection, however, had changed. Thereafter, we ended each conversation with my saying, “I love you.”
Saying ‘I love you’ to our dearest ones blesses them and us. It is a way we make our lives a blessing. It is something each of us can do today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives.
This is one more way we can speak and share our blessings. When we do, we learn the discipline of gratitude and the importance of words in our daily lives.
Everyone has an opportunity look at his or her life and decide what to focus on. Will it be the tragedy, the pain, the hardship? Or will it be a blessing? You decide.
What’s one blessing you haven’t spoken that you need to? Share in the comments.
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