At the end of every year, most of us lament what has been lost, what never came to be, or what did not meet our expectations. For some its real loss of loved ones, jobs, missed opportunities, friendships. For others it’s sadness over the loss of celebrities we never got to meet yet impacted our views of art, the world and maybe even ourselves. Some of us create memes and cartoons and cry out about how 2016 just needs to go away because we just can’t take another <insert thing here>. We can’t adult anymore. We don’t want to. This list of loss and heartache is typically pretty long and unfortunately all too easy to write.
So sitting in my home office… I look up.
When you start with a heart of thankfulness for little things and medium size things, you realize they are BIG things. And those things, when you add them all up, can help you to honestly look back at 2016 and say, “Thank you.” to God.
But it was a bad year! you shout at me.
If you had my life you’d feel differently, you exclaim.
You’re right that I don’t know your life and I don’t know what it is like to be you. But I do know you have things to be thankful for in spite of the things that sucked.
I’m not asking you to pretend it hasn’t been rough for you. I’m not pretending that rough things didn’t happen this year. And for some people it’s rougher than others. As a country a lot has happened. Across the globe a lot has happened. And likely your state, your hometown, your workplace, your friend circle and your family have had it rough, too.
This isn’t about pretending, or “fake it ‘til you make it.”
This isn’t about ignoring tough stuff, ignoring tough conversations or burying your feelings.
This is about focus.
I once had someone tell me, “where you stare is where you steer”. The idea being that when you drive your car if you stare out your left window you’ll eventually start veering to the left. If you want to go straight ahead, stare straight ahead. So in the spirit of not careening off the road into a ditch, let’s stare in the right direction. Let’s stare at the good things, focus on the good things, and see where life steers us. Am I pretending there isn’t chaos in the left lane? Nope. Just focusing on the road in front.
So this is about focus.
- In spite of the bad things.
- In spite of the loss.
- In spite of lost opportunities.
- In spite of the things that slipped through your fingers.
Because in between those “in spite of” moments, were good moments too. Moments worth recalling, worth remembering and being thankful for.
I’m willing to bet that some of mine could be some of yours too.
- Coffee. It exists, and I have the financial means to brew a pot of it and drink it black. Daily. (ok multiple times daily)
- Wi-Fi. Seriously people we have the internet. You’re reading this because you have access to the internet. We can have a voice, we can read the voices of others, we can know in an instance when something is happening, and figure out the weather or whether we should turn left at the next intersection.
- I can see. I can hear. I can taste. I can smell. I can feel. Do not take the 5 senses for granted. Do people lead full lives who don’t have all of their senses? Absolutely. Should I still be thankful I have all five? Absolutely.
- I can breathe. On my own, without a machine, without hacking up a lung. Sure running up a set of stairs will wind me…. but I can breathe.
- I can walk, unassisted, up and down stairs, occasionally climbing on my counter tops to reach things that are high up. Let me repeat that. I can walk.
- I have a bed. With sheets. And a comforter. My bed is safe. My bed is warm.
- I don’t have to go outside to use the bathroom. If you have indoor plumbing do the happy dance. If you have toilet paper, dance twice.
- I own candles as a smell good luxury not my source of light at night. I am thankful for electricity and light bulbs all throughout my house because the dark is scary and I can flip a switch to chase it away.
- Heat! It’s winter in the Midwest in case anyone missed it, cold windy sometimes icy sometimes snowy. And there is a thing on the wall that I can tell to make my house warm and it does. Thermostats are magic. Heat is a blessing.
- I can read. I can write. I can type.
- I have a job. It is safe. It is indoors. It surrounds me with people who challenge me and who I challenge. That’s awesome.
- My church. Yes in a time when people are walking away from churches I am thankful for one that I run toward and runs toward me.
- I have the financial means and ability to purchase and prepare meals for myself and for others. Lord, let me never take that for granted.
- Jesus. He was here in 2016 and he’ll be here in 2017, continuing to guide me if I’m willing to set aside the time to listen, and have the courage to follow his examples.
- My small groups, which are so much more than bible studies, more than friends, more than mentors.
- My family and all of their love, their time, our memories, and our laughter.
If all I can do and all that I have in 2017 is on that list above, then 2017 will be an amazing year I will be grateful and thankful for.
But this is only part of my list. And it’s my list. Make your own list.
Start every day of 2017 with gratitude and watch how the way you feel about yourself and others changes for the better.
P.S. Most of us don’t have a default mode of gratitude. It takes practice. As you embark on your journey to focus on the good things, here are some categories to get you started. It’s not all inclusive by any means, but just list one thing per day. And no day can be the same, and no thing you list can be big and vague. Don’t say family. Say someone by name and why. Don’t say health, list something specific your body can do and why that matters to you. Join me on this journey.
- Physical things you can do. All of them. No seriously, list everything you can possibly think of. Imagine if you couldn’t do something on that list!
- People in your past and present. The bad that taught you who not to be, the good that brought life and the greatest that inspire you.
- Places you’ve been, movies you’ve seen, books you’ve read, art you’ve experienced.
- Nature stuff. Animals, plants, the sun, you pick!
- Go through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. List all the things in your fridge. List the ways and places you have shelter.