The One List To Make When Everything Sucks

Spoiler: It won’t change your life. Do it anyway.

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:

  1. hear option A
  2. hate option A
  3. get used to the idea of option A
  4. get excited about option A
  5. be told that option A is off the table; here’s option B
  6. hear option B
  7. 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.

At some level, this is what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight.

It does not change my life in the moment. But I intend to keep doing it anyway, because of the difference it creates within me.

Inviting pew-weary Jesus people to embrace + experience their truest identity as beloved through subversive spiritual disciplines. Hope*Writer. Creative mentor.

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