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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Surviving Thankless Relationships

“That is the thankless position of the father in the family—the provider for all, and the enemy of all.”
—August Strindberg
It isn’t just the father in the family who is treated thanklessly; we are all unappreciated from time to time. Yet it’s no coincidence that the same people, and the same situations, repetitively take us are granted.
Are we to learn or endure? Are we to protect ourselves or patiently bear these things?
Wherever there is potential for thankfulness there will always be the potential for thanklessness. Wherever relationships exist there is the ability to love or refuse to love; to give or take.
Thanklessness is the mark of lovelessness. What can we do about it?
Having the Courage to Protect Ourselves
Our first choice is to decide whether we can do anything about it. Sometimes we can. Sometimes, having prayed for the wisdom to communicate how we feel, we can make the point without hurting the other person:
“When you say this or do that I feel underappreciated. Doing this other thing would show some consideration.”
But the risk is those who have the capacity to be thankless are usually those most easily hurt. Their curse is selfishness, for which we all suffer from time to time.
In the world of relationships there will always be the need to protect ourselves—through the operation of assertiveness. Assertiveness is that ability to protect ourselves without hurting others. That is a knife-edged task. Even the wisest of people will falter. But assertiveness is to be our aim.
Very often, however, the underappreciated shirk the right to challenge thankless people.
Accepting What We Must Patiently Bear
Although it is not always the best thing to accept thankless treatment, sometimes it’s our only option. We can imagine our patient forbearance has the blessing of God over it. But knowing this doesn’t always help.
Patiently bearing the lack of gratitude on the part of others is an investment of faith for a hope in the future that some sort of vindication might occur.
Perhaps this is the easiest and godliest of choices—to bear the insult, thoughtlessness, or ridicule. If we can do such a thing by not denying how we feel we develop inner strength.
Then there are always innocent others who benefit because of our forbearance. Maybe our focus is to be on these; that our refusal to be offended is based in a superintending sense of fathering.
***
Being underappreciated is a temptation to anger. It takes strength to bear well in thankless circumstances. This strength is real when we can bear well without denying our true feelings. We send our frustrations to God in prayer to experience peace.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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