Lessons I’m Learning

Fresh baked bread wrapped in dish towels—a tiny gratitude in my life. 

Fresh baked bread wrapped in dish towels—a tiny gratitude in my life. 

Life is really hard right now.  That’s just how it is.  People in my life who I love are hurting.  As much as I’d like, I can’t take those things from them.  It’s hard to watch, and it makes me hurt, too.  It breeds a lot of fear.  All of that, in conjunction with juggling normal life just means that this is a tough season right now.

But, I’m learning through the process. Tough season make for very efficient professors.  Here’s what my learning looks like right now:

I Keep Coming Back to Gratitude

I know, I know.  Gratitude is transformative.  Everyone knows that.  But there is still so much I need to learn about gratitude.  Here’s my latest understanding.  I never struggle to find the difficulties in my life.  I can make a quick and thorough list without any deep internal reflection.  No, the hard things are omnipresent.  They are right in front of me, so close that they nearly block my vision. 


If I will look at the edges of those struggles, I see tiny glimmers.  I recognize little things for which I am deeply grateful.  The sun shining.  An excellent piece of toast.  A kind word from my son.  A beautiful song.  

The more I look at those edges, the more I see.  And, the more I see, the larger that area becomes.  To be clear, it doesn’t change the Things That Are Hard.  No, those stay resolutely consistent.  But, it does change my perspective on them.  It moves them just a bit further into the distance of my gaze.  They’re still there, but so are all the other amazing, breathtaking parts of my life.  Through gratitude, I begin to see those other pieces as well.

The Type of Gratitude Matters

I was talking with a friend recently.  We were discussing the hard things.  Then she said, “I’m learning through all of this the importance of remaining grateful, even when things are hard.”  I agreed heartily.  She listed a few things she was grateful for.  She sad that, as hard as things are, at least it isn’t this hard thing or that hard thing.  I nodded along, thinking how I’ve followed that same same line of thinking a million times. 

Then, it suddenly hit me.  This isn’t the kind of gratitude I need to be practicing.  It’s only gratitude in the negative.  It’s a gratitude that says, “So long as this other worse, less-bearable thing isn’t happening, I’m ok”.  And, it’s helpful, I suppose, to some extent.  But, it isn’t the empowering kind of gratitude that I need. 

I need positive gratitude.  I need to cultivate gratitude, not for the bad things that are not, but for the good things that are.  Because I don’t know what will come next.  The very thing I’m grateful to not be facing may be right around the corner for me. 

Negative gratitude draws a line in the sand that says, behind this line, I’m safe.  I can handle everything straight up to that line.  But, the truth is, I may very well have to cross that line.  If my life to this point is any indication, I’ll probably have to leave the line far in the distant past.  I’ve spent years drawing those lines with my gratitude.  I’m done with that.  I am relying heavily on gratitude, but I am relying on it to look at what is and not what isn’t.

Practice Extreme Self Care

I am gifted with a some truly wise women in my life.  One of them, as I was sharing my struggles, offered excellent guidance.  One particular piece of of her advice has become a mantra for me.

“Practice extreme self care, Micah.”  She paused a moment to let it sink in, then added, “Extreme”.

Since the moment she said it, this has been my watchword.  When I’m overwhelmed and not sure what to do, this phrase comes to mind.  It releases me from the futile cycle of trying to fix the unfixable.  It is an antidote to the pernicious lie that I can fix everything if I can just figure out the right solutions.  Instead of looking to control, I can ask simply, what do I need to do to take care of me?  Because how I treat myself is the one thing I can control.  And, I’m the only one who can

Outsource the Worry

This is a dangerous lesson to share because I think it can easily be misconstrued.  I don’t want to imply that increased productivity is the solution to emotional difficulties.  But, the thing I’m learning is that, with all the emotions flying around, I need something beyond my addled brain to trust with all the day to day bits and pieces. 

I’ve turned to a to do app to hold the minutiae for me.  I use this app, not as a productivity tool, but as an act of self care.  It is the container for my concerns, not my task master.  I don’t use it so I can run faster, in order to stay ahead of all the pain.  It is simply my way of outsourcing as much of my worry as I can. 

There is a lot that I am going to carry right now because I care about the people in my life who are struggling.  But, I don’t have to carry the worry that I’ll remember to return this email or run that errand.  Those are things I can hand off.  And, right now, I am really, really grateful for that. 

Besides, I love the dopamine rush I get for checking things off all day long.  When things are especially chaotic, I need to visually see my progress.  It helps calm that feeling of being buffetted by circumstances.