One Good Thing

“You’ll never make everybody happy.”

“Don’t do other people’s jobs for them.”

“We’ve been doing it this way for years; we’re not going to change now.”

Like many newly minted ministers, the people in my first churches taught me far more than I could possibly have taught them.  Their lessons have stuck with me over my decades of pastoral work.

But one gem in particular stands out.  I’ve shared with more people than I can count.

It came from a woman who had sustained many serious losses over the course of her life.  And now she had developed a chronic disease. Her life was about to be radically altered.  One day when she was between medical tests and awaiting results, I asked how she was coping.

“I look for a good thing – just one small, good thing – each day and hold on to it.”

She went on the say that there had been times when she had felt like she was held captive in a thick, dark cloud; times when she couldn’t see any way forward.  But no matter how awful things were, there was always one good thing in each day.  It might be a note from someone, a beautiful sunset, or the bloom of a flower.  You just need to make sure that you notice, she told me.

Eventually, she would find two good things in the day.  And sometime later, three or four or more.

Before she knew it the day would come when the good outweighed the bad.

She believed that it was those good moments that saw her through, even though the pain might still be there.  The holes in the heart left by the losses don’t get any smaller.  She knew that there are some things you just can’t change.  You learn to live with them.

“But even though I still have the pain and the holes,” she said, “I don’t let them define me.  I know that I’m more than the sum of my difficulties.  They are things I carry, but they aren’t who I am.”

“Instead, I focus on how I can get through the day, looking for that one good thing.  Eventually, healing begins to take over.”

What a great thing to keep in mind in the thick of winter.  It’s dark and cold.  It’s one of the most depressing times of the year, especially for those who live in the chilly north.

And even though the winter solstice was a couple of weeks ago, we haven’t seen much change in the length of daylight hours.  But the hours of daylight are increasing little by little – more than a minute each day.  By the end of January, we will be enjoying an additional hour of daylight since the winter solstice.

I am writing this on the Christian holiday of Epiphany, a day that recognizes the revelation of the Light in the darkness.  It’s no accident that so many spiritual traditions celebrate festivals of light this time of year.  These observances help to focus our attention on the light of small changes that will continue to brighten our outer and inner landscapes over time.

So, as I look to the skies at dawn and dusk for reassurance that the darkness truly doesn’t overcome the light, I remember that wise woman.  Though she has long-since departed this world, I hold her words in my heart.

“Look for one good thing each day.”  That can make all the difference.