I have met a host of amazing people in the blogosphere, not the least of which is my good friend Kristi from Thankful Me. Kristi is an unassuming, gentle and genuinely kind person who helped me through one of the tougher segments of my life. That “unassuming” thing is a nonjudgemental and often understated way of guiding you down a path of patient self forgiveness and coping, all the while teaching skills to improve the human condition one person at a time.
Please welcome Kristi and let us know what you’re thinking in the comments! Thanks, z~
A friend of mine recently told me, “I have more time now, but I’m getting less done.” The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the routines of many of us, forcing us to adapt the way we used to do things, and has introduced a measure of new stress into our lives. As we try to make sense of the situation, we look to others. In this “free” time, one friend is painting her house. Other friends post on social media about various activities: baking, gardening, reading, organizing, and watching TV. So many people have posted photos of completed puzzles, I have wondered if I was in the wrong for not having a puzzle in progress on my kitchen table. I questioned if I was using my time wisely.
How do we get motivated and find satisfaction in what we do? As I am intimately acquainted with my shortcomings and, like my friend, have days when I feel like the more time I have, the less I accomplish, I don’t claim to have all the answers. What I do know is what helps me, when I allow myself to believe it: LITTLE BY LITTLE. My life is a process, and things take time. Every little effort counts. I love this quote by W. Timothy G¬¬allwey:
“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
― W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
It’s easy to recognize what is not complete, whether that is a skill, a character trait, or a home improvement project. Those who are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount have invariably heard, “Be ye therefore perfect. . . .” and might have felt discouraged. When I learned that the word in the original Greek denotes completion, though, I felt encouraged. Like the rose plant mentioned by Gallwey, I haven’t reached my full potential yet. And, as I believe in life after death, I think I will still be progressing in the afterworld. I can afford to be patient with myself (and others).
(For an excellent, more in-depth article about perfection and the Sermon on the Mount, see “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually” by Jeffrey R. Holland.)
Sometimes the idea of perfection, in the traditional, “make no mistakes” sense, immobilizes action of any kind. Why start or try something if you are just going to fail? The “little by little” mentality subscribes to the “A for effort” philosophy. The big project might not be complete (perfect), but progress is made step by step. An oft-quoted phrase in the Book of Mormon states, “. . . by small and simple things are great things brought to pass. . . .” (Alma 37:6) You don’t have to be a religious person to recognize the truth of that statement. As a young child, I loved the Christmas cartoon classic, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The catchy chorus of the song, “Just Put One Foot in Front of the Other,” taught the same idea that small, simple steps can result in great changes:
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
Of course, deciding to just start begs another question, one that Alice asks the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland:
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
We have freedom! Doing a puzzle, reading a book, watching TV, painting a house, gardening, organizing—those are choices, not items on a COVID-19 checklist. We get to decide where we want to get to, and if we even care. That decision is personal. My friend who painted her entire house is not more correct than my friend who completed a Star Trek puzzle, or vice versa. We can celebrate our different talents, interests, and hobbies—including our own. At the end of the day, regardless of how much I have gotten done, if I have used my time doing good things—which definition varies from person to person and even day to day—I have been had a successful day.
Within that freedom, though, I have found that there are general guiding principles that make a difference in how I feel about my time. My days go better when I am not the center of my universe. For me, that means spending time daily in prayer and scripture study. If I miss either of those activities, the day is off somehow. Acknowledgement of God, His enabling power, His care and concern, and my gratitude for Him, helps me to remember I can “be still, and know that [He] is God.” (Psalm 46:10). Your own religious views will determine what that looks like in your life, but I would encourage you to think outside yourself each day.
Another way to step outside yourself, is to do something for others. Again, service looks different to different people, and can change with stage of life or different circumstances. I don’t see as many people in person now, but I can make phone calls, and send texts to let friends and family know I care. I am still donating whole blood at the Red Cross every 8 weeks. I’ve done some volunteer work online, indexing records for family history. There are plenty of opportunities to help others, even in this time of social distancing. Find something that appeals to you. Service doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming to be beneficial. Remember, little by little. A small act of kindness can make someone’s day brighter. Justserve.org is a website that provides lots of ideas for service opportunities, if you need help coming up with something.
While focusing on others is a key to happiness, it’s good to remember to take care of yourself, too. When I exercise, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep, I feel better and have more gratitude for my physical body. Likewise, spending time in creative pursuits and hobbies adds joy to the day. I recently glued pieces of driftwood onto heart-shaped boards—something I had never done before—and was surprised at how much fun that simple activity was. Whatever your interests are, give yourself permission to enjoy them. My to-do list is long enough that I will never run out of should-do’s, but want-to-do’s can take priority sometimes.
When my friend stated, “I feel like I have more time now, but I’m getting less done,” my initial mental response was that I could relate. As I pondered more on her statement, though, I felt like telling her—and myself, and anyone else who needs to hear it—that most likely, she is doing just fine. Little by little, things are happening, and life is progressing. LITTLE BY LITTLE.
Kristi Brierley blogs at ThankfulMe.net, where she encourages all to live with a thankful heart. Mom to five wonderful adults, and Grandma to five adorable children, Kristi currently lives in Utah with her loving husband of 33 years and her devoted yellow lab, Drexel. She loves family history, laughing, travel, and raspberries.