When Life Gives You Lemons

No matter how much we plan, prepare, practice, or procrastinate, life can get messy. As Anne Lamott so beautifully captures,

“All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

When we’re struggling, it can be difficult to tune in to the beauty that surrounds us. Instead of redirecting our awareness to the positive, we tend to focus exclusively on the downside of things. When things start going our way again, we notice the simple joys each of our days brings with little conscious effort, and naturally dwell on these moments. But we’re frequently at a loss when it comes to holding both together.

There’s a powerful practice we can engage in when we’re faced with small currents, like running late or feeling overwhelmed, to big waves, like getting into an argument with a loved one or struggling with an illness. It’s called the AND. Instead of zooming in on the negative, we can broaden our view to see what good we might be able to squeeze out of our most trying experiences.

Here are some examples:

I’m stuck in traffic AND I get to go to a job I love.

I’m worried about my health AND I have access to reliable medical care.

Money is tight AND I’m finding ways to stay afloat.

I’m feeling lonely AND I’m surrounded by reminders of others who love and care for me.

The house needs repairs AND I have a space where I feel comfortable, relaxed, and safe.

My child is struggling in school AND is a beautiful symbol of strength and perseverance.

I’m feeling overwhelmed AND I’m choosing to give myself time to unplug.

I’m feeling unfulfilled AND I’m using my gifts to help others and develop my strengths.

I’m having a hard day AND finding small ways to take care of myself.

I exchanged harsh words with a loved one AND I’m grateful to have a partner in life.

It may sound easy-peasy, but this practice is a real challenge to do in the moment. What makes it so difficult? In part, it’s because the consequences of our negative experiences feel much more significant than those of our positive ones, and sometimes, they are.

Yet, we often crowd out the good in our lives before these consequences even occur. Imagine you’re running late to work. Your mind might be spinning with thoughts like, “I’m never going to get everything finished that I need to,” “My colleagues will be disappointed in me,” “I knew I shouldn’t have hit the snooze button,” or even, “I might lose my job.”

Meanwhile, you fail to appreciate your favorite song playing on the radio, take in the morning sun, or feel gratitude for making some of the green lights. Maybe you don’t notice the happy face of the child crossing the street, or the friendly wave of your neighbor as you exit your driveway.

By investing more in the uplifting experiences that occur alongside the ones that weigh us down, we raise the potential that they too will have lasting, even life-changing impacts.

It’s easy to appreciate the good that surrounds us when life is going the way we want it to. But when we encounter difficulties, it becomes much harder. This is when we most need to make room for the AND, by tuning into the big and small moments of our days that bring us a sense of peace and gratitude, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

The next time you’re faced with something that feels hard to bear, be it a small annoyance or a heavy burden, try this practice. Connect the difficulty with something for which you can be grateful, or that provides even the slightest relief. It’s important that the positive element that you choose to focus on be related to the negative. For instance, saying to yourself, “I got a flat tire AND it’s a beautiful day” isn’t as effective as saying, “I got a flat tire AND I have a car I can depend on to reliably get me around.”

You may even want to start writing down your examples, so you can reflect on the things that are going right in your life, in the midst of all that may be going wrong. The more you engage in this practice, the easier it becomes, and the more you’ll develop the capacity for resilience, gratitude, and trust – in both yourself and the world around you. Where can you make room for the AND today?

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