It’s the small things, I thought to myself as the plane took off and I glanced at the empty seat next to me.
Sometimes the small things make all the difference, like an empty row to yourself on a flight to a funeral. Or a discount at ChickFilA on a bad day. Or a note from a friend in the midst of a stressful season.
When life is overwhelming, we have to pay attention to the small things. As we walk into the month marked by thanks, we must actually give it.
When we are overwhelmed, we have to start paying attention. The same way we practice our breathing when we are anxious (in for four, hold for seven, out for eight…), we have to start doing this with our eyes. We have to start looking closer, seeking out the beauty that longs to be found. And when we do this, we start feeling it in our souls, that maybe this life thing is going to be okay after all. Take it all in, hold it near, and then release. Just like your breath.
We look at the leaves. We watch the sunset. We embrace a friend. We give flowers. We listen to a favorite song. Suddenly, the hard things will take a back seat and we can see a little clearer.
When we are overwhelmed, we have two options: to stay overwhelmed (no thanks) or to look up. We always have the option to stay buried under our burdens, to carry the heaviness like it is our job (spoiler alert: it’s not). Or, we can turn to the One who knows all our weariness and burden and offers to carry it all for us. We can lay it all down, looking up at His face and knowing that even when we feel overwhelmed, really we are completely held. When the loss feels insurmountable, when the expectations feel unreachable, when the relationship just doesn’t seem to be getting better. When all we are responsible for feels far too heavy? Look up. It’s the small things.
I have been loving the song “Fear Not” by Kristene Dimarco recently. Part of it says this:
When life piles up and you're feeling overcome
Stand still and believe, I won't let you drown
When a cry's in your throat, watching all the waves below
Lift your eyes to the sky and trust that I won't pass you by
Let me show you what I see
You can't dream too big for Me
So get up, get on your way
We've got things to do today
Remember all I told you, remember all I said
When the questions start arising, keep your eyes fixed straight ahead
Hold on tightly to the promise, hold firmly to the truth
That I love you, oh I love you
Life is often overwhelming; we are kidding ourselves to think otherwise. So the solution isn’t to make life less overwhelming, but to learn how to thrive and find JOY in the middle of it all. Practicing gratitude is one of my favorite ways to come out from underneath the weight of life. When I find myself frustrated, sad, or overwhelmed, turning my mind and heart towards gratitude makes a world of difference.
Even recently, I was journaling about frustrations with people in my life, and found myself sinking deeper and deeper into negative thoughts and bitterness. I shook my head and started over. What am I thankful for? When I feel lonely, I list all the people I have spent time with or had encouraging conversations with lately. When I am overwhelmed with evil in our world, I thank the Lord for people who are doing beautiful, redemptive work. When all I can see are my own frustrations, I list the beauty around me: leaves changing colors, Cinnamon Apple spice tea, laughter with a friend, music created by gifted people, reading a good book snuggled up in a warm blanket.
Our lives are made up of days, and our days are made up of small moments, tiny decisions, things that we think may not have any impact. Every time we decide to choose gratitude over pity, sadness, or whatever else might be weighing on us, we are impacting the rest of our lives and eternity. Life is all about perspective, and we have control over ours.
Some practical ideas for choosing JOY and gratitude this month:
List ten things you are thankful for
Tell three people what you appreciate about them
Buy a gift for someone for no specific reason
Take an hour break from social media once a day
Journal for twenty minutes, uninterrupted, about what God is doing in your life
Celebrate a friend who has accomplished something or won something