One Word

September 30, 2020

I think we all have a default.  Somewhere in our programming, we adopted an outlook of how we view our lives.  A filter if you will.  A way to gauge how life is going and perhaps even predict our future.  A system of metrics that we hold up our list to and with that comparison in hand we determine if we are happy.  I know I have spent a lot of time living this way.  Did I accomplish x, y, z? Then I can be happy.  Did x not turn out the way I expected or not at all? Then I can’t be.  Of course, our brain isn’t so simplistic.  We factor far more into the equation, but ultimately it boils down to some kind of comparison that leads to how many of us see ourselves, our lives, and our happiness.

About a decade ago I had gone to a sweet therapist who called the thoughts in our heads the internal inferno.  She said sometimes our thoughts simply run amok, like a wild toddler throwing a tantrum, and we have to be the parent in the room that puts them in time out.  We can’t let that kind of destruction run free because all it does is cause chaos.  This could be in many capacities. From how we beat ourselves up for a misstep to fear growing louder and trying to intimidate us. Regardless of how commanding they sound at times, this voice can be filled with lies and not an ounce of truth.  When I first hear this, my reaction was: What the? So I can’t even trust my own head? Maybe you have heard this before, but that knowledge was profound for me.  A little bit scary, but also incredibly freeing.  In other words, I didn’t have to listen to those thoughts just because they were in my head.  The bottom line is they could very well be soaked in lies.  Rather than give them a cozy blanket and allow them to take up residence on my couch, I could throw them out the front door.    

For years I circled this idea of filtering my thoughts better.  To start recognizing when a particularly prickly, antagonistic one would try to take hold.  While taking inventory, I began to realize how not only had I let these destructive voices move into my house but I had let them do a whole renovation.  Before I knew it, a botched second story was thrown up and it was putting a tremendous strain on the foundation and my sanity.  This hack job came to light pretty recently as I began to unravel the yarn of thoughts that have been collecting since March and the end of normalcy as many of us knew it.  COVID-19 has brought with it fear, frustration, uncertainty, anger, and sadness.  Our sense of security has been wiped out as we witness the world reel from so much unrest.  On a small scale, in our own home, I let the weight begin to crush me.  The avalanche of negative thoughts had completely taken control and I didn’t even have a key anymore.  I felt like a stranger in my own home and the sadness has been heavy.

After months of feeling buried, I felt like a light bulb went off.  As I mentioned earlier this idea of filtering negative thoughts isn’t new to me.  But here is where the shift happened.  Instead of just being aware, I had to replace them with something else.  I had a good friend tell me she would say “cancel, cancel” when negative thoughts invaded her mind.  I liked this idea, but then I found myself still wrestling.  Even if I had the thought by the tail, I was still stuck in the middle because I didn’t have a landing place.  This might be the most obvious answer, but it took me a minute to get here.  I needed a soft place to fall.  Put another way, I needed a new word to replace the old ones.  I chose joy.

Any time a negative thought has tried to creep back in, I repeat the word joy.  Even at this moment, my life is joy-filled.  There is joy present around me even in the tiniest capacity at times.  I have to choose it in order to see it because as we all know we cannot have two thoughts at the same time.  It’s just not possible.  So if I can only pick one, then I’m going to pick the word that serves me well.

The other word I chose was temporary.  Doesn’t that make whatever is happening feel different?  Perhaps lighter in some ways?  I lived this out loud when my hubby was near death due to a ruptured appendix 7 years ago.  This is temporary, this is temporary.  It was the phrase I had on repeat for nearly a year.  I had to believe our reality was temporary so I would have the strength to keep going.  Maybe you have lived in the gap as well? Maybe you’re living it right now?  That place between the life you imagine and your reality.  Fast forward to today and this mantra continues to replay in my ears.  My frustration with virtual learning, financial uncertainty, and the stresses I see in my kids are all very real.  Taken a step further, the world as we knew it, peace in our cities, safety and security, the list goes on.  So I repeat the words: this is all temporary.  The more I say it, the more I start to believe it.  Does it mean there’s an easy solution? No, not necessarily.  The breadth and depth of these challenges and heartbreaks are far-reaching, complicated, and incredibly complex.  There is no simple solution.  But what I do choose to believe is that there is a solution out there and placing the word temporary upon the unrest allows my mind the relief to best cope, search, problem-solve or manage our current situation rather than be destroyed by it.   These two words have allowed my shoulders to relax a bit and take a deep breath after holding it for such a long time.  

When my defenses come down then I notice I can think more clearly and my energy returns.  I don’t need to numb myself with reality tv or a second glass of wine.  The craziest thing I have noticed is that I actually start believing my new words which cause a shift in my behavior.  Even though my circumstances haven’t changed, my perception of them has.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows (we’ve been watching Trolls on repeat a lot lately!) It takes repetition and practice.  I know I must be diligent in my gatekeeper duties.  But I’m fist-pumping at the fact that even if it’s slow, every negative thought that is shown the door is a win.

What could your one or two words be?  Where do you see negative thoughts trying to gain footing? I’m starting to recognize that mine tend to stem from feeling out of control.  Like someone else is holding the strings and calling the shots.  Where my voice isn’t heard and my vote not counted.  Knowing this about myself has helped me better identify the feelings as they start to rise up.  Even if it’s an ounce of conviction, I can hold onto that with both hands and believe that my life is in fact joyous and the setbacks are temporary.  When my mind is free to problem solve then I know I have a much better chance of seeing the solutions God has placed in front of me.    

Why is this so dang important? Because what we focus on multiplies.  Please don’t take my word for it instead try this.  For the next seven days, when those negative thoughts try to muscle their way in the front door speak your words of truth.  Don’t even let them in the foyer.  Want to up your game? Take complaining out of your vocabulary too.  Squash negative thoughts and fill the space with your new words.  See what happens.

When the grooves in our brain start to change, something really incredible happens.  Instead of seeing the disappointments, fears, and setbacks we actually start seeing the possibilities.  This might be the most amazing part of all.  Our brain is designed to problem solve and is always on the lookout for the best solutions.  It also desperately wants to help us, we just have to understand how to give it the information it needs in order to do so.  

In addition to selecting my two words, I have also found that reading my Bible, personal development, and other faith-based books have had a tremendous positive impact on keeping my mindset light.  Please check out my favorites on my book list here.  When I view my life as heavy and hard, then everything feels heavy and hard.  But when I see life as a joy-filled adventure then all aspects of my life feel easier.  Even if the situation is the same.  Even if my bank account is the same.  Even if my kids are acting the same.  None of that has changed, but I have changed.  The realization that my thoughts and feelings create my attitude which ultimately shapes my actions is very powerful.  If how I walk through the world first originates in my head, then it becomes that much more imperative that I guard my thoughts and select them well.  

Here’s what I think is so beautiful.  It’s contagious.  Have you ever walked into a room with a smile on your lips and given someone a genuine compliment?  Have you listened intently as they spoke all the while nodding and smiling? On the flipside, walk into a room with a scowl and start complaining about traffic, the weather, your husband.  I can guarantee you’ll have takers for both.  You’ll either be met with a smile or a co-conspirator in your frustration.  The way we think affects how we feel and ultimately our attitude, words, and actions.  How many of us have way overreacted after someone has cut us off on the freeway? Or responded with grace that maybe they might be having a bad day and deserve a bit of kindness?  The bottom line is that it starts in our heads and perhaps our hearts as well.  

In turning this over in my mind, I take solace in knowing I have far more control than meets the eye.  I can choose how I see the world and how I’m going to respond to it.  There is freedom in being proactive rather than living a life in reactionary mode.  By starting with the filtering of my thoughts and choosing the words I want to focus on, I am able to view the narrative with different eyes.  I want to be upfront with you, my dear friends.  I can’t do this by myself.  I’m not that strong or patient.  COVID-19 has taken this to a whole new level.  It has magnified our challenges and caused so much unrest.  I don’t have to tell you, I know you are living it too.  My humanness wants to crawl under my covers and not come out till 2021.  I want to drown the sadness and uncertainty.  Knowing that I don’t have the answers or the strength strangely enough, also brings me comfort.  I can fall completely apart because there is a God that wants to desperately pick up the pieces and use my life for His good.  In the name of total transparency, that was my prayer this morning.  God, I’m falling apart.  My family and I desperately need you.  Please Lord, catch us and use all the pieces for Your good.  I trust that Your plan is better than mine.   

The order is tall and scary.  I know I need to loosen my grip.  To gain clarity and perhaps even peace, I know I must decide which voice I will listen to.  Isn’t that what’s so interesting about fear, it will take up whatever room we give it.  I believe fear will always want to tag along, but how we treat it will make all the difference.  Do we acknowledge it, thank it for trying to protect us, and then respectfully decline its request to sit in the front seat?  Or do we hand it the car keys and let it drive us over a cliff?  I can’t control the uncontrollable, but I can point my heart in a better direction.  When I focus my eyes just above the horizon of my circumstances then I’m able to see a world that needs my best self to show up.  With the reminder (sometimes hour by hour) that God’s grace surrounds me and with His breath is in my lungs, I’m able to embrace a better version of myself.  

I know that the words joy and temporary won’t solve problems on their own, but they will allow the space for God to work.  37 years on this planet has taught me that God’s plan is always better than mine and when I look back then I’m able to connect the dots.  But we have to be willing to move.  God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw worms straight into their nest.  Simplistic yes, but I think the visual is powerful.  From my experience, my take-away is that solutions are available to us, there will just be some work involved.  Sometimes this looks like building our trust and our faith.  Sometimes it looks like saying yes to a scary possibility or closing a door on another.  Sometimes it requires picking up the phone, knocking on a neighbor’s doors, or getting on a plane and changing your address altogether.  

This might be the hardest part of all: believing that we are worth the good things.  

This one brings tears to my eyes when I really think about it.  I’ll say it again, God wants good things for us.  I think of how much I love my children and how I can’t even imagine the magnitude of God’s love for each of us, His children.  Just as we want good things for our kids, I believe God wants the same for us.  A verse that explains this very idea is Matthew 7:9 when Jesus asks, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”   In other words, even though we are deeply flawed, we can still want what is best for our children.  Can you even imagine what a perfect God wants for His children?  What would happen if we lived our lives anchored to that truth? If we stepped out our front door wrapped in His love with our eyes and hearts set on seeking His goodness and sharing it with others, even in the midst of our own difficulties?  What if through one small shift at a time, we can choose the words we focus on? Could we ask life-giving, solution-driven questions and give God the space the work? Could it have a rippling effect not only on our lives but on the world around us?  It’s an experiment I’m willing to try.

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