Let’s be perfectly honest—sometimes life is just plain rough, and it’s challenging to find reasons to be thankful. At times, it feels like you’re either sinking in quicksand or going through a never-ending storm that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Your heart hurts, your brain hurts, and all of the emotions are making your body actually physically hurt.
You might often hear people talk about the different seasons of life—seasons of change, seasons of joy, seasons of pain, seasons of sorrow, seasons of financial troubles, seasons of success, seasons of being alone. So.many.seasons. But what about those perpetual seasons that don’t seem to want to change from one to the next?
I’m a pretty joyous person, and I try to help others to have fun in most situations, but I also know what it’s like to have a heavy heart and feel like no one truly understands the pain you’re going through. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on the reasons you have to be thankful because you’re consumed by the reasons you have to struggle. While I think it’s important to acknowledge the bad things in your life and to feel the emotions resulting from them (I’m actually still learning how to do this), I also think it’s healthy to find bits of gratitude, especially when you’re going through the darker points in life.
Years ago, I started wearing pink on Wednesdays. Sure, it was originally inspired by Mean Girls, but I later learned that pink is the color of gratitude, and now I treat that day as my weekly day of thanks. Three of my dear friends in California and I email our reasons to be grateful every Wednesday, and it’s a tradition I’ve come to love. No matter what messes we’re facing, we each find a list of things for which we’re thankful and share our bits of joy with one another.
Lately, just in my own life to myself, I’ve been trying to find those gratitude tidbits more and more on a daily basis. I’ve been in one of those tough seasons recently (or, more accurately, one that just hasn’t ever ended), and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to throw a pity party for and with only myself. But when I push those thoughts away and then, instead, focus them on the reasons I have to be grateful, my heart’s emotions shift, and the desire to feel sorry for myself disappears. Rather than thinking about what I wish were different, I think about what’s so wonderful as it is.
And joy takes over.
In the Bible, Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances, not just the good ones. No matter what you believe, I think this is a wise way to live. It’s definitely not always easy, but it’s good. There are challenging situations that many of us haven’t ever been through, and it’s always easier to say something than actually to do it, but I truly believe that you can always find a reason to be grateful, no matter what you’re facing.
Last week, I absentmindedly left my classroom in a hurry during my conference period so that I could go to the bathroom and get back before the bell rang. In doing so, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to see my finger get caught in part of this strange rolling contraption thing on the door latch (a horrible description, obviously), but I sure felt it. For the first few seconds after it happened, I couldn’t look down—I was sure that the top part of my finger wasn’t there anymore. When I finally got the courage to let my eyes stray that way, I saw plenty of blood and a finger that was somehow still intact.
I have an extremely high pain tolerance—I once went almost an entire day with a 9-millimeter kidney stone (most of them are 3 or 4 millimeters) traveling through my body before I went to the ER. In this moment, though, I wanted to let myself cry. I didn’t, but I really wanted to. My whole hand was shaking, and I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. As I’m writing this, it makes me sound pretty wimpy, but I feel like I could quote Monica in this case: “You can’t say that! You don’t know! I mean, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain.” I actually also thought that I was going to have to get my finger amputated (I’m clearly not one to dramatize a situation), but thankfully no one had to pee on me to get rid of the pain.
I wrapped a paper towel around my finger to try to stop the blood, but I’m not sure that I should have been squeezing something that had just been smashed as hard as it was. At that point, I only had like three minutes until the bell, so I just walked with my wrapped-up finger back to the classroom, purposely avoiding eye contact with the door that had just tried to kill a piece of me.
I had a bunch of students entering into my classroom who were relying on me to be there for them, and I didn’t have time to focus on the pain and the fact that I still haven’t learned to slow down in life. Instead, I decided I was going to be grateful that I still had my finger. And you know what? I put a Spiderman Band-Aid on that mess, and everything was fine. Sure, I didn’t sleep that night because my finger was throbbing, and the nurse told me the next day that I needed to go to the doctor to have them drill a small hole in my finger to drain the hematoma that had become my new worst enemy (I never made time to go—oops), but I was grateful, and I’m convinced that it helped to minimize the pain.
Yes, I realize that a finger that survived getting caught in a door contraption that I still can’t accurately describe well is rather minimal compared to many much more difficult situations that people face on a daily basis, but comparisons often minimize more than they should, including how we view ourselves. Regardless of how big or small our troubles are, though, I still believe that there are always bits of gratitude that we can find to help us make it through the rain (sing it, Mariah, my ultimate soul sista).
The broken hearts try to break every piece of us. The dark times try to steal every ounce of our joy. The setbacks try to keep us from rising back up. The illnesses try to tell us that there’s no hope. The losses try to convince us that there are no wins in sight. The mistakes try to keep us from believing in grace. And so many more tough situations try to stop us from being thankful.
The key word is try—we don’t have to let those things win.
We don’t all live in an episode of Full House in which all of our problems will be resolved in less than 30 minutes when the “this is a valuable life lesson” music starts to play. Our situations won’t always pan out as we hope, but even in the midst of the worst storm you’ve ever been in—even when the torrential rain gets more powerful and daunting by the second—your heart can still find reasons to smile.
When I was in the hospital for five days or whatever it was for one of my many stays (thanks, kidneys), I remember being hooked up to IVs and on so many hardcore pain meds that still didn’t get rid of all of my pain but probably made me send some questionable text messages to people and feeling absolutely miserable—not just physically but also emotionally. But then my sweet friend Jayna showed up with a box of Wheat Thins, a coloring book, and a pink phone charger, and my whole outlook on everything changed. In that moment, I was thankful for her genuine heart and the thoughtfulness of her gifts that only a true friend would know that I would appreciate dearly. Sitting there with hair that I hadn’t washed in about nine days, morphine and dilaudid pumping through my veins, and a body that couldn’t even move half of an inch without excruciating pain, I sat in thankfulness.
I hope that you’re able to find reasons for gratitude when it seems like you can’t. If nothing else, it might help you get through those difficult times, even if in a very small way.
And give you a new reason to wear pink on Wednesdays.