I started journalling again a few months ago. I saw some pretty journals and bought them on a whim, after not having written a consistent journal for probably years. It felt like time to start again.
And just in time. What I began to document, without even realising it, was the beginnings of some huge life changes.
I would never show anyone these journals unedited. I am pretty bare and open in all my writing, these blog posts definitely included. But in the pages of my journals is where I am really, totally naked, mind and soul laid bare. I allow myself to just say whatever I think or feel without a filter, without censoring myself or judging whether I “should or shouldn’t” feel that way. It just is what it is, and I’ll sort it out later. (Sometimes we need places like that — private places, to spew that stuff out in, before it gets bared to the world.)
And so what inevitably fills more space in these journals than anything else is… well, complaining. Moaning, perhaps. About the pain, the struggles, oh, the injustice of it all.
I allowed myself a bit of space to feel like an angsty teenager all over again. And admit it, the angsty teenager lives in all of us. It’s not actually limited to adolescence — it’s just that when we leave adolescence we get more self-conscious about what is acceptable to be worked up about.
I don’t stop this moaning when it comes out. It’s in me after all, and the pain is real — suppressing it does no one any good.
But after letting it all out, I have found myself moving into a different space. As things heal, I have begun to see a little clearer where my road is taking me. And though the pain still exists, I’ve begun to find a different perspective on it. And it reminded me of a lesson I thought I’d already learned, but needed to rediscover.
I was about to journal out my moaning again, when it struck me — be thankful. And just as I had been about to complain, I wrote those words instead, with I’m sure a Spirit guided hand. Because feeling thankful for the pain I was in had moments before been the last thing on my mind.
Thank you. Thank you for the pain.
I know, on the surface, I don’t get it either. Even as I wrote it, I was like, really? But this sucks!
But as I continued to pour out thanks instead of moaning, I was reminded of the power of gratitude. And why gratitude is the absolute first step to undertaking any change.
Gratitude does not change our circumstances, but it does change our perspective. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it reframes everything as opportunity instead of obstacle.
This is critical. And I know it might sound flimsy, and like, yeah, but really? This SUCKS! I feel you, I do.
But bear with me.
Method in the Madness
I love planning. Parties, trips, events, experiences. Office supplies stores are my idea of heaven. Folders! Labels! Pretty Pens! Give me any excuse to use them.
But funnily enough, I’ve never really been one for planning my life. Up until recently, I felt like life just sort of happened to me. I fell from one thing to the next, sometimes changing on purpose, sometimes by accident.
And when things are going well, it’s fine. It’s fun to go with the flow, to just see where I end up. And it’s fun to wake up sometimes, wonder how you got here, and then look back and see the little trail that seemed so random at the time but has led you somewhere perfect.
There’s a lot to love about the lack of a plan. I still stick by that.
But when things are not so good — and that has seemed like a large proportion of the time — that’s where it gets hard. When I’m sick or tired or something goes wrong, and I feel like I’m in free fall with nothing to catch me. That’s when I flounder and flop about like a landed fish. Or I just lie there where I dropped and hope someone will pick me up and set me back on some path or other. And at that point I don’t much care which path, as long as it’s something.
THAT’S no way to live.
Because there is a difference between going with the flow, being spontaneous and flexible and open to healthy change and growth — and just tripping through life seeing what you’ll fall into with no foundation at all.
And so one of my main focuses now is being purposeful and intentional, even as I go with the flow. To start things the right way. To no longer just fall from one thing to another without at least some plan or preparation. Because even though I have learned a lot along the way, I haven’t made the most of it all. I’ve wasted a lot of time just finding my feet again, instead of actually taking my dreams and my passion and living them.
Even if you want to live a life of complete freedom and flow, open to taking any opportunity as it comes — you still need a foundation and a framework to work from. You still need to live intentionally, not by accident.
I’ve learned this in my writing, in my marriage (and the ending of it), in my health, in my life. You can still playfully swing through life with abandon, but it’s even more fun when you have a strong framework to swing from.
This doesn’t mean you need a five year plan. It doesn’t mean you must sit down and think it all out, let alone write it down or set anything in stone. It doesn’t even have to be anything physical or tangible — though it can be. (And writing down goals has been shown to greatly increasing our likelihood of reaching them.)
But it is about building that foundation the right way. It can still be free flowing, while also being strong and grounded. (It is the masculine and feminine energy that is in all of us, working in harmony. Flowing but directed. Free but purposeful.)
How do you get here? Gratitude first.
The very first step before any life change — gratitude. It is the foundation for everything.
Because no change you make will ever feel as fulfilling and satisfying and joyful as you want it to, if you don’t know how to practice gratitude in your daily life as it is right now.
Even the right change at the right time won’t give you what you want out of life, if you haven’t yet learned to appreciate what your life right now is offering you.
Because the thing is, no change is going to make life perfect – even the things that make something better will always come with their own challenges, new things to process and deal with and make sense of. And honestly — probably more challenges than before. Especially when you are making changes that are truly life altering. It doesn’t come easy.
Thankful for pain?
As I wrote in my journal that day, thank you for the pain, I was simultaneously aware of how crazy that sounded but how pivotal it was.
Because I realised that no matter what, the circumstance wasn’t going away just yet. I knew it was for the future, things I am holding now but are not yet here. So there is nothing I can do about it yet. Other than this one choice — moan, or be grateful.
Neither option changes anything — anything, except my perspective.
And I will choose to be thankful every time. And not just in a false way, pretending I don’t care, pretending it doesn’t hurt. But in a way that I am consciously reminding myself:
Life is a gift. All of it. Even the suffering.
Every moment holds an opportunity — and chance to either rail against what is happening, or to recognise the chance to embrace and be a part of the growth and change.
Pain and difficulty is an invitation. An invitation to make something different. Whether that is the removal of something causing the pain, in our life or our world, or the change of our heart and spirit.
It is an invitation to pause for a moment. To notice. What is happening here? Why am I feeling like this?
For me, my first response to why? was, well, because I want something I can’t have. (That’s what it often is, right?!) But then I paused longer, and I realised the pain wasn’t because I couldn’t have something, but because I wasn’t recognising the bigger picture. Surrendering to the larger more meaningful story.
And because I had been looking to the future only instead of recognising the present moment and appreciating it for what it is. An opportunity. To hold something. To be changed and transformed a little more. To be refined of the muck. To be stronger tomorrow than I was today. To pray into and sit with the coming promises. To be a part of the coming future before it is even here.
Difficult to hold, but oh so beautiful to be a part of.
And so I said Thank You. And I meant it.
And then I complained at the end anyway… Well, I’m only human. ;P
But seriously — Gratitude is the foundation that goes down first, but when it is in place, it is more than strong enough to take everything else you chuck on top of it. Because, yep, pain still hurts. No use pretending it doesn’t. Change is still hard, even when it’s welcome.
And every new step involves more perserverance and recalibrating than you would have thought possible.
But if we can practice gratitude, if we can say Thank You for the opportunity for growth in every moment, then the next step is paved with the foundation of our laid down hearts and intentions before we take that step.
So while the steps may not feel any easier, we will be that much steadier wherever we place our feet.
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