I sat at the desk, fighting back tears. I hated this.
For several weeks our family, plus several close relations, had been trying to make a decision about housing options.
One relative needed a half-built house taken off their hands, and finished.
We needed to decide whether to buy the house we were renting, or move out.
Another family needed to make a decision about splitting up their property.
The choices were all very complicated, and all interdependent.
The process of decision-making had been going on for several weeks, now, and the pattern of my own experience went something like this:
- hear option A
- hate option A
- get used to the idea of option A
- get excited about option A
- be told that option A is off the table; here’s option B
- hear option B
- hate option B….
To call my emotions a bite threadbare, at this point, would not be exaggerating.
This morning, I had just heard that one my favorite options was no longer a consideration; and I needed to get used to the idea of the option I liked least.
It involved a floor plan I did not care for, costs that terrified me, and the release of some very precious dreams. I sat at the desk, staring at the black-and-white drawing of the floor plan, and mentally clicking through all the cons I knew of.
I’d been making pro/con lists, life giving/draining lists, and weighing all the options like a nutritionist counting out calories on a scale. I was tired, disappointed, even devastated, in that moment.
And I knew what I needed to do. There was one more list I needed to make.
Taking a deep breath, I picked up a pen, slid a sheet of ruled paper in front of me, and willed myself to begin. I began writing down everything I could think of to celebrate about this option.
It was, at its core, a gratitude list.
This is one of the best habits I have found and begun forming, over the past twelve months. Encounter a situation I hate? Write a gratitude list.
Feeling hopeless and depressed? Write a gratitude list.
And, not just a list of random things I am thankful for (although I have applied that strategy, too). Ideally, I write a list specific to the situation I am dealing with.
When I sat at my desk that late-summer morning, I wrote down all the things I felt could be positive. And I deliberately chose not to write down all the things I didn’t like. It was a decision of my will to purposefully record the good, and choose joy.
This act did not change the reality — that there were, and still are, things about the choice that I do not prefer. But the act did change me.
The result was that I was able to embrace the option before us, with both my will and emotions. By specifically focusing on the positive facets (the exact opposite of what my pessimistic, type-A, enneagram 1 self would typically do), my heart was made more ready to receive the beauty and blessing that could be found in the situation.
As a Christian, this was also an act of faith towards God — I didn’t give thanks to the universe, but to the One who created it. I chose to bow my life before him, in the middle of stinging circumstances, and surrender my own hopes and dreams. This is good for soul.
As a result of my choice at the desk that morning, I really did begin to open myself up to the less-than-my-ideal option. We ended up moving, and finishing the house that was in the process of being built.
We moved in the day before Thanksgiving. I have to smile, when I put those two facts together: I gave thanks before I received, and then received on the Eve of Thanks-Giving.
No, this habit of pouring out thankfulness about situations that suck doesn’t always feel authentic. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of motions, not meaning. But I believe that meaning can follow motions…they don’t always have to originate in meaning.