“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
— 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10
Sometimes, in that unavoidable way, life just turns to shit. You get sick at the worst time (such happened to me last week when I found myself in the ER at 4am), your kids act out, your money gets funny around the holidays, someone dies unexpectedly who you care deeply about, your spouse becomes a raving lunatic for some reason or another. It just…doesn’t all seem to be going…right.
As humans, these are “rubber meets the road” times. Nothing brings out the child or victim in us more than when things are just unfair. We stomp our feet, cross our arms, turn our face away and RESIST. We grumble, curse people out, call up all of our friends to rant about the lack of humanity in the world, we get pissed the f%$* off!
Nothing used to piss me off more in these times then when one of my friends — we all have those one or two — who seem imperturbable by bad times would say to me in that “voice” that I used to HATE. That “I’m about to drop some deep spiritual shit on you and you already know I’m right so you better listen up” voice. They would say to me that I should try to be grateful, that I should find something to be thankful for. As a Christian, this is of course not a foreign concept to me.
But I used be be cloaked, ESPECIALLY during challenging times in a “get out of jail free” mentality around my suffering. Like “OK, I know I’m supposed to find some blah, blah sliver lining here, but I’ve earned the right to stomp my feet and be surly for a bit, no?”
If you were anything like me, allow me to share with you my evolution on this thing called suffering that we go through. And by that I mean the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” to quote Shakespeare. We as humans suffer big and little blows, sometimes all at once. It may be the frustration of trying to get pregnant, the parenting overwhelm of raising a child or the tragedy of losing a child. I have personally come to appreciate that offering gratitude at times of all suffering along the scale has helped me have greater perspective on my life and helped me to have greater compassion for myself and whatever I’m going through. This helps clear the path for the opportunities that suffering inevitably brings.
And yes, there is opportunity in all suffering, if you choose to accept it. Sometimes, staring dead into the pain of something you DON’T want is the very best way to clarify what it is you DO want. Anyone who’s been in a relationship staring at someone that they are absolutely done with knows what I mean here. I thank God for the toads, because it helps me recognize a freaking prince when I see one, nah mean?
Here’s the other thing that happens. When you start training yourself to offer praise and gratitude during the really, really hard times, it helps you re-calibrate what counts as a hard time to begin with. Now, instead of running from thoughts of gratitude when I don’t necessarily “feel” like offering praise, I know that those kinds of moments are EXACTLY the kind I need to offer praise in. When I can slow down enough to — sometimes force — myself to write down 20 things that I’m grateful for in that moment, then when something isn’t as bad, I can crank out 50 reasons without breaking a sweat.
Creating a habit out of seeing the good in the bad is one of the best tools you can have in order to recover and start to turn whatever bad situation around quickly. Ready to get started? Here’s a few tips to move to the next level:
1. Acceptance is always the first step. Gratitude can only really flow from your heart, if you’ve had a moment to slow down and just simply accept what is happening to you in your life right now. You may have to sit in the pain and discomfort of it for a while, that’s OK. There are some great exercises on sites like selfcompassion.org that can help you be with your pain long enough that you can begin to move through it.
2. Offer up your Praise/Gratitude. Make sure you’ve done step one first. If you find yourself about to offer gratitude, but it feels like you’re completing a 4th grade homework assignment that you just want to “get over already”, you’re starting too early. You need to be in the right STATE before you can properly offer gratitude. Rolling eyes and clenched lips though a few “I’m grateful for sunlight” affirmations isn’t going to cut it.
However, if you are ready to offer your praise, consider doing it in several forms. I sometimes journal it out. I find this helpful when I’m really in a lot of pain as I can start slowly and build. Sometimes it helps to say it out loud, in front of a mirror. I also find that you may have to start broad. When something’s really bothering you around money, you may not be able to offer up tons of grateful words around money. That’s fine, there might be other things around that topic that you can find to be grateful about or if not, skip it all together. Find other things, your health, your children, etc., to discuss first.
3. Repeat! Life will sometimes test us on these points. We’ll awash ourselves in peace and gratitude and the phone will ring with some fresh hell as if to say “Ha! How’s all that spiritual shit working out for ya?” This is just part of the process. Part of why you make this a habit, is because life is relentless. You can’t just look for the good on Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as well.
4. Be Rewarded. I have to say, it’s much easier to recover from the blows of life having practiced this for some time. Doesn’t mean I don’t still get knocked down, because I definitely do, but my ability to find my center, reset and find a way to turn my challenge into an opportunity has served me greatly, and I know it will do the same for you.
In service of your visionary legacy,