My husband, Dyck, has a funny story about the day he took the bar exam. He was sitting at a table with another law school grad who was evidently very nervous about the test, and who settled uncomfortably into his space by lining up a row of carefully sharpened pencils and highlighters and other tools. As he did so, he was repeating over and over and over again, “You can do this. You can do this. You can do this.” His obvious anxiety made Dyck so much more nervous that he actually had to move to a different table.
Yesterday, as I was doing yet another load of laundry and stressing over a series of family and work problems, I found myself muttering the same phrase over and over again to myself. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
I have a lot of stressors in my life lately. My husband, my kids, my parents, my work, even my allergies have added up to a season in life that is capable of make me feeling rather troubled today. I suspect this is what it’s like to be entering my late 40s—everyone seems to need something and I am sorry there is only one of me to help. I have too many plates spinning in the air and on my bad days I worry I’ll lose an important one.
Even my social media feed, with its shouts about racism, global warming, sexism, natural disasters, immigration, nuclear war—even the NFL, for Pete’s sake—makes me frown. Everyone is just so darned unhappy all the time, with a set of problems that feel distinctly first-world in nature. Why? Aren’t there enough problems in the world that we don’t have to invent more for ourselves to be angry about?
When I sat down to write this blog post on Monday, I wrote two separate drafts that were alternatively snarky and fretful. Yesterday I wrote a third, supposedly more upbeat version, that descended into a litany of complaints as well. I left off unhappy with what I had written and went to bed early so I could take a much-needed pill for my growing migraine.
It was then, as I got comfy on my pillow, that I heard my father’s timeless advice in my head: “The thing is, you just don’t get excited.” He always repeats that when he hears people talking of their worries, and he’s absolutely right.
As I lay thinking, I remembered some of the people I see in my volunteer work and other areas of my life. People in hospitals and nursing homes, rendered incapable by their own traitorous bodies but who still long to receive the Eucharist I deliver on a regular basis. Troubled addicts, incapable of admitting their problems and on a collision course with violence, even death. A woman in a persistent vegetative state who sacrificed her own health to give birth to a beautiful daughter, whose family asks only that I stop and pray with her when I am able.
I think of them, and I realize how good things are in my world. I have a beautiful home, an amazing family, and food to eat every day. I can hug my family and hustle around on their behalf. I have plenty of work to do, because my clients are busy and productive and unfailingly good to me. I can add value each and every day—the choice is mine.
Even the people in my Facebook feed—the ones who seem so angry and upset about the world we share—well, they are trying too. They want to make the world a better place and they are adding their views to a collective discussion about how we do that. We are all doing the best we can.
So this week, instead of railing against football players who are “taking a knee” I am going to go one better. I am going to take TWO knees and thank my God that I am here, in this place, with the power to do so much for the people I love. I am going to sing for joy in the middle of all this strife, because I can.
Dyck doesn’t know if his seatmate that day passed the bar. I hope he did. Because he can do it. I can do it.
And so can you.
So here is my challenge to you: when you are writing your next tweet or Facebook post, think about who’s reading it. Put yourself in their shoes and write something encouraging instead of negative. I have an old high school friend who writes every morning, “It’s beautiful outside! Make it a great day!” I love her posts, because I can start with a warm fuzzy instead of a cold knot in my stomach.
I have another dear church friend from my home town who is so very ill, and whose daughter died last year. Although she has so much pain, she always writes of her joy in life and her sustaining faith. She inspires me every day. She uses social media for good, and she makes me want to do the same.
I am making a pledge to change my own approach. I am not going to fret or complain anymore; I am going to love and encourage and share what’s working instead of what isn’t. We have a lot to be thankful for in our country, and I want to talk and think about what unites us instead of what divides. Our problems are solvable, if we tell ourselves we can do it and take a measured, active approach to making it happen.
Because the thing is, you just don’t get excited. You get busy and start doing.