Q: My heart has been broken ever since my boyfriend and I separated. My emotions are a jumble: I feel sad and angry, numb and bitter–everything but grateful. How can I be grateful for even the good times we once had when it hurts every time I think of him?
— Name withheld

A: Gratefulness is at all times the music that makes us walk with a spring in our step. But at no time do we notice the gentle power of gratefulness more than in a crisis situation. And what crisis could be more in need of gentle healing than the breakup of a relationship?

Healing starts when we shift our attention from the pain we feel now to the joy we felt before. At first this makes us hurt even more because it reminds us of what we have lost. But if we stay with it, in spite of the hurt, we begin to become aware that no bitterness can destroy the sweetness of our memories. A great poet compared that sweetness to honey in the hive of the heart. The flowers from which we harvested the nectar may long be withered, but the honey we made from them lasts. As often as we taste a drop of it on the tip of our tongue, gratefulness is renewed.

Give yourself time. It takes time to steady your focus on the honeycomb rather than on the flowers from which the honey came. But once that focus has made you grateful and calm, you will be able to look so deeply at the hurt that you discern in it an opportunity: the opportunity to forgive. For this opportunity you can be grateful.

To forgive is to grow. Once you see this clearly, you want to do it; and in forgiving, you experience how it makes you grow.

It may even make you grow strong enough for the final step of this healing process. Having forgiven yourself and the other in your heart, you may now be able to express this forgiveness outwardly, by a letter, a phone call, or a meeting face to face. But if and when and how this can come about depends not on you alone, but on both of you. You must be ready to express your inner forgiveness outwardly, but your healing must not depend on it.

Your healing will be complete as soon as you can hold in your heart all that has happened and be grateful for the ways in which it made you grow.

— Your Brother David

First published by Beliefnet, 2001

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.