Have you ever done a “what if . . .” about yourself? What if you were to lose one of your senses, which one would you choose? Would you rather be blind or deaf? When I was in high school, I remember having this conversation in my head. At the time I had learned to crochet, cross-stitch, as well as sew, and I seemed to need something to do with my hands in the evenings. I thought, “What if I can’t use my hands when I get hold?” I’m sure I was thinking about Grandma and how her life had slowed down, but she kept on working with her hands. “What if I had arthritis so bad I couldn’t use my hands?”
Well, I did get older — turning 65 next month, and I do have arthritis. But thanks to Arthritis Strength Tylenol, I still can do all those crafty things with my hands. Some mornings the old joints are stiff and when a weather front comes through my hands may ache, but I am blessed to do what I can do.
Probably because I am by nature an optimistic person, I didn’t do lots of “what ifs” in my youth, and I still don’t. Our daughter, Jennifer, started some of this thinking when she was in first grade. She assumed if got low grades on papers, then she was not smart. The only time in her life she was sent to the office (2ndgrade), she was devastated because that meant she was a bad person. In her mind, only bad people were sent to the office.
By 4th grade this was a problem that affected her enough that I started searching for some help. I found a big word psychologists use to label this condition – catastrophizing. It means taking a situation and giving it a negative “spin” – believing the worst will happen or has happened. Jennifer eventually had that paradigm shift that helped her see things in a different light, but there was no one thing that made it happen – just lots of little events and decisions. She also found the courage to take chances.
In the years since we lost Jennifer we frequently heard this comment, “Losing a child has to be the worst/hardest thing in the world.” Of course, from our point of view it is, but when I talk to a widow who recently lost her husband, from her point of view, her loss is worse. I haven’t lost my mate of 43 years, so neither of us can compare our losses. Unless the circumstances are the same, and they seldom are, how can anyone say that this loss is worse than another? It’s just different; every loss is different.
The question is how to take your “what ifs” and the inevitable losses of life and turn them into positive thinking? The simple answer is, “Trust God will take care of you.” That doesn’t usually work for a child or when you are in the middle of your own grief or agony. The hardest thing is to know that it is a process, and to remember that even though Jesus knew what He faced, it was hard for Him. He asked God to take away His cup of suffering. “He was full of pain and prayed even harder.” An angel came to strengthen Him. (Mark 22:41-44)
I always need to act myself into a feeling – take some action, make a plan, DO SOMETHING to change the feelings. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last six months from Ann Voscamp: keep a journal and every day write the gifts from God. It’s not a “shopping list”, and I learned to write about 10 a day. Any shorter and it usually meant I was not reflecting on my day and the small moments from God. “When I give thanks for the microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.” (p. 59 one thousand gifts).
I’ve learned that God will not drop a bucket of joy or peace in my hands – I probably won’t even recognize it because they come in the moments – in the naming of a gift. Recognizing a gift can bring peace. This works for adults, and I know it will help children. When you focus on how you are blessed, it changes your perspective, “the spin”. As Steven Covey calls it – a paradigm shift.
Read Ann’s book, get a notebook or journal, start counting today! It’s not magic; it’s a process. God tells us to do this over and over in Scripture; He knows what we need. After all, He did create us!