I met my friend Jenn the summer I was 17, while we were on a missions trip to Pakistan. It was one of the most formative summers of my life. At the end of the summer she went home to Washington and I went home to California. Every morning we sent one another a fax. It was a newsy little note about what was going on in our lives–the dramas at work, what we read in our daily devotions, and whether the cute delivery guy talked to us. On the fax was always a list of “Day Brighteners.” These lists of gratitude formed from our existence–maybe not large and lofty things, but real things, things that really made us smile or laugh or made the confusion of adolescence less sucky. I guess those Day Brightener faxes lasted for about a year, until we had computers with email in our homes. I miss those faxes.
This last Lent I was going through my desert (Lent is like that, isn’t it?) and another friend friend Joan texted me every morning with a “pocket of joy”–one thing that brought her joy that day. And she would ask, “What is your pocket of joy today?” Some days I had to dig. I had to think really hard, because life was slogging hard. Sometimes through tears I would find a pocket of joy and text it to her. Lent is over, but I miss those texts.
Recently in discussing grief and getting through difficult things another friend told me when I first wake up every day to thank God for three things. Find three things first thing in the day because it would rewire my brain toward gratitude. He is not wrong. It works. But, it is also work. You have to choose it. It’s not automatic. If you don’t choose, the world will choose for you.
Gratitude is not the default in our world. Five minutes watching the news and you can find about a dozen things that suck big time. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that. Simply watching people who don’t know how to merge onto the interstate is enough to make me lament the fallen world. (It’s really not that difficult people. Get up to speed for the love all that is good and holy!) Yet, gratitude is the key to everything. Somehow it is the most powerful code to crack that opens up reality and possibility and joy and perseverance. It’s amazing what we can endure when we start on the premise that not everything sucks.
This is not some blind optimism or power-of-positive-thinking nonsense. You do not have to pretend that things are easy or that your heart doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to ignore pain (in fact, please don’t, because the body keeps score and you will have to deal with it later. True story.) or put on your rose colored glasses. You don’t have to be naturally glass-half-full or phlegmatic. In fact, I think those of us most given to melancholy can unleash the most powerful gratitude because it is not our natural disposition. When we choose it, it moves mountains. It shifts the atmosphere, so to speak.
Yes, I am naturally melancholic. I am also choosing joy.
Because some things don’t suck:
- I walked in the rain last night. The fog was rolling in. It was misty and the lampposts reflected off the puddles. It was romantic in the extreme. Not romantic in the sense of finding someone to canoodle, but in the sense that it could have been a fantasy faerie world and I was allowed to walk through it. I may have been in Narnia, who can say really.
- I drank my coffee in the dim light of the early morning and did not rush to the next thing. I talked to Jesus instead of rushing. When Jesus invites you to coffee you should always say yes.
- Recently I had two conversations with friends I have known for decades and the themes were about love–what true love really means and how we can choose to live in that love, even if we were not raised with it. It was as if we were pilgrims on the same journey pointing out to one another the blazes on the trail, directing us to our destination. I pray we can all reach it together.
- I made jalapeno cheese rolls. I can’t eat them, but I can make them. Believe it or not, that is almost as good. They came out all fragrant and the bread was light and the cheese was toasty. It looked like joy on a plate.
- This past weekend my body was a little weary. So, I laid down in the sun in the middle of a grassy field until I felt life coming back into my soul. I just hydrated and photosynthesized for a good long while. I’m basically a fern with more complicated emotions.
My life is full of spiritual blessings and earthy goodness.
Pockets full of joy
“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”Rilke
Shall we learn to start each day with the premise that not everything sucks? Even when things are objectively on the miserable side of fantastic, there is goodness. Oh, so much goodness. And the key to everything in life is to live in goodness and to reject cynicism. Last Spring when I was really slogging through some shite, I was in my kitchen and sighed, audibly and deeply. My son asked why. I said, “What can we even do with this sad, fallen world?” He replied, “But, Mom, your heart is still so soft toward the world, despite everything. So you are winning.”
If you need permission to stop, rest, and count all the things that don’t suck, take this as your sign. Future you (and all the world that craves your joy) will be glad you took a moment.