Bad days. We all have them. I had one the other day, and although nothing catastrophic happened, rather than being thankful for the good in my life, a string of nuisances managed to put me in a bad mood. I had been up most of the night with my dog who was not feeling well, so I was tired. I made tea in an effort to feel better and spilled it all over after realizing too late that I had filled the tea press with more water than it could hold. I burned my hand when pulling a baking dish out of the oven. At that point I actually laughed with the ridiculousness of it all, but inside, I was frustrated.
In Sticks and Stones, Emily has some reasons to actually be frustrated. Here’s a glimpse at a scene from Chapter 4 where Emily's grandmother tries to cheer Emily with a story about a stick. Emily does not want to listen.
Finally, she placed the stick in the center of the table and stared at it like a mama, proud of her newborn baby.
She snapped out of her worshipful moment when she saw we hadn’t followed. “Come on, you two.” She waved us over. “Didn’t I say to come sit?”
Jared led, we sat down, Grandma began. I waited for her to somehow connect the stick to a way to get my mom out of jail, or to a way to get us back home soon. “Well, one day I was walking to the grocery store, noticing every little thing on the ground that was so boring, and I thought to myself that nothing God makes can be boring. Nothing. So, I picked up this stick, and then . . .”
I stopped listening.
Emily is certain at this point that whatever her grandmother has to say about this boring and meaningless stick is not important. Emily has much more important things on her mind, like how she is going to survive listening to her grandmother’s stories about things like sticks, and more importantly, when her mom will get out of jail. We can relate to Emily here. We know how it feels to be so weighed down with worry or so frustrated with life that listening to someone else’s positive perspective is nearly impossible. But it’s during those times that tuning our minds to something other than our problems is exactly what we need. For Grandma here, it was a stick that changed her perspective. While that might seem a bit odd, to find hope in a mere stick, it wasn’t really the stick that gave her joy; it was how the stick reminded her of God that actually changed her thinking.
Most of our life is spent in the mundane stuff of life. We get up, go to school or work, do homework if we’re still in school, pay bills, cook meals, clean floors, wash dishes, feed the dog, the list goes on and on of things that aren’t necessarily exciting enough to pull us out of a slump. Sometimes we go through really difficult things, and then these little things can become even more burdensome. But if we can find the joy in even the small little miracles in front of us, like Grandma in Sticks and Stones manages to do with little things like sticks, we can transform our thinking.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
But this transforming of thinking doesn’t happen by chance. It takes conscious effort. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. If we repeat those negative thoughts, we think negative way more than we think positive thoughts. So, in order to turn this around, we need to be aware of these thoughts and turn them into God’s truths.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
A fellow teacher and dear friend of mine recently shared an experience that could have been quite sad and disturbing. She had gone on a trip to the wall on the Mexico and California border. While standing in that place, which is clearly not one that is uplifting and inspirational, she noticed something. Looking at the wall, there were hearts painted at the top of and along the rails. Looking up at the barbed wire along the top of the wall, she noticed they curved into the shape of hearts. She then noticed hidden hearts in all kinds of unexpected places – in the shape of a small hole in the wall, in the shape of grains of sand she held in her hands, in the clouds. She noticed them everywhere, and shared this with others when she returned and told others about her experience.
These heart shapes could have gone unnoticed. But she saw them and was reminded of God. In a place where there is division, she saw the hope and love of God, and has continued to see these “hidden hearts” and inspire her students and fellow teachers and friends to seek them out as well. That is an example of transformational thinking that has the power to positively impact others. Like Grandma with the stick, we have the ability to look at things in a way that uplifts rather than tears down.
We also have the ability to take captive any negative thoughts and replace them with God’s truths. Here are a few examples:
If we say: I’m not enough.
God Says: I have adopted you as my child. (Ephesians 1:5)
If we say: I’m not smart
God says: I have given you a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)
If we say: I’m not pretty, or someone else looks better or cooler than me.
God says: You are my masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
If we say: This is too hard for me. I can’t do it.
God says: I will help you. (Hebrews 4:16)
If we say: I’m all alone. No one understands.
God says: Nothing can separate you from my love. (Romans 8:38-39)
These are a small smattering of the many truths in God’s word that combat all the lies we start to believe. By reading and knowing what God says, we can feel his peace and strength, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in. And Grandma’s ability to find God in the ordinary is also good advice. He is always present, he is in the details of sticks, of stones, of leaves, of all things, and when we truly seek him, we are promised to find him. (Matthew 7:7-8)
And guess what? That bad day I was having? Well, nothing super spectacular happened to change my attitude. But I did get a little reminder of God in a very ordinary yet unexpected place – spaghetti squash. Yep, you heard it right. Spaghetti squash. This was what was in the baking pan that burned my hand. But, when I turned over the squash and started pulling out the squash with a fork, I was reminded of God’s amazing handiwork. I hadn’t cooked spaghetti squash in a long time, and I had forgotten how much it actually looks like spaghetti when it is pulled apart. I pulled out all those stringy strands and said to my husband, “Wow, look at this. This is fun.” I thought about how cool it was that God made things like this, and it reminded me that even in squash, we can find the joy that only God can bring.
Reflect: What are some negative thoughts you have told yourself today? Are these thoughts true? What does God say about them? Most Bibles have a concordance at the front or back that lists topics and where to go in the Bible to read about them. You can also use apps like blueletterbible.com to search topics, or do a quick internet search. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you can type in “Bible verses about anxiety,” or “What the Bible says about feeling anxious.” This can help direct you to what God says is true.
Journal: Look up these passages you find or the ones listed in this devotional. Write them down in a journal. Write your thoughts about them, your questions for God, your prayers to Him.
Pray: Ask God to help you believe these words and thank him for his truths.
Remember: Read these verses often so you can remember them. Notice that some of the verses above are paraphrased to a statement that’s easy to remember. This can help us speak truth whenever we need it.
Remember to look for God, even in simple or unexpected places. Nature is often the best place to find him. It’s hard to look at a beautiful sky, the intricate details of a flower, roaring ocean waves, or even in a spaghetti squash and not think of the magnificence of God’s creativity and power.
I hope you find God today, everywhere you look, and are reminded of how much he loves and cares for you.