The Five Good Things Challenge

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been surviving a very difficult year by clinging to the good things amid a lot of bad things. I also regularly (daily or hourly) remind myself that this hardship (whatever it may be at the time) will end. Since this has been a rather helpful practice for me, I’d like to encourage you to give it a try. Better yet, make it a practice.

To get you started, I’ve made a few lists below of the “Five Good Things” about five things I really don’t like.

Five Good Things about Wearing a Face Mask

  1. I don’t have to worry about any food that might be stuck in my teeth after a meal.
  2. I don’t have to worry about bad breath, especially after coffee or lunch at work.
  3. I’ve learned to notice and “read” people’s eyes in conversation. Eyes are so expressive and fun to watch.
  4. I haven’t had a common cold or any other virus in almost two years.
  5. Masking has lessened my risk of getting the corona virus and possibly passing it to others.

Five Good Things about Social Distancing

  1. It’s okay if I forget to put on deodorant before leaving the house.
  2. As someone who is uncomfortable with close-talkers and hugs with acquaintances, this pandemic precaution has been a nice reprieve. AND it means that I don’t have to feel guilty when I need or want more personal space.
  3. The six feet of space is so refreshing in usually-crowded places like the grocery store check-out line, elevators, and popular stores at the mall.
  4. Missing hugs from my friends and family, I make my husband give me extra-long hugs every day. He’s a good hugger. It does the trick.
  5. Distancing has lessened my risk of getting the corona virus and possibly passing it to others.

Five Good Things that came out of the Pandemic

  1. I got married in late February of 2020, shortly before the world shut down. Our newlywed year was more like a hibernation. This forced togetherness accelerated a lot of learning in our relationship. We’ve learned how to communicate our needs in stressful circumstances, how to create fun with so many unexpected hours stuck at home, and how to practically support and encourage one another when we are struggling to cope.
  2. The pandemic forced a lot of people to reevaluate their lives and make positive changes they may otherwise not have made. For example, my cousin and her husband decided they wanted 1) a lot less work stress, 2) to live near the water, and 3) to live near family. So, in faith, they resigned from their jobs, moved across the country, and much to my delight, now live 15 miles from me! My cousin is more like a sister I never fight with, so I’m overjoyed they are so close.
  3. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with technology and social media for years, resisting many forms of both because they seemed more of a bother than they were worth. But since I’ve been stuck in Florida for over a year and almost all my family and friends live out of state, technology and social media are the tools that have kept me well-connected to the people I love.
  4. The pandemic lifestyle has exposed so many things that I took for granted and I will likely never take them for granted again: safe hugs and handshakes; casual, spontaneous hang-outs with friends; the freedom to travel when I want to; the ability to have family with you in the hospital and at critical doctor’s appointments; making appointments with mental and logistical ease; the simple enjoyment of eating in a restaurant with good ambiance, good music, good service, and good food that I did not have to make myself!
  5. The constraints of the pandemic have exposed strengths and weakness that probably would have remained hidden expect for these extreme circumstances. For example, I’ve discovered I’m very flexible and adaptable to change, even in on-going uncertainty. In terms of weaknesses, I’ve discovered the extent to which my emotional stability relies on my connection to others. Now, everyone needs relationships to be well, and it’s true that I’m a strong extrovert and there’s nothing wrong with that–but I’ve realized that my emotional health is far too reliant on others. Instead of feeling discouraged and ashamed of this exposed weakness, I’m choosing to see it as a new opportunity to grow in health.

That’s it for now, but you get the picture. I hope the Five Good Things challenge might be helpful for you, even if you can only fill in your list to number three for now. Leave spots four and five empty, be patient and expectant, and keep reflecting. More will come to you and your list may even begin to overflow.

Disclaimer: Please don’t think that I believe in ignoring real and big problems and putting on a fake smile, as though simply focusing on the positive can make the negative disappear. I absolutely believe in the power and practice of lament. I believe it is a sign of health to name our challenges and not minimize their impact. But I also know that those practices can easily slip and slide into wallowing and defeatism–at least they can for me. So I lament and I name the things that distress and burden me, but I also try to find hope and cope in the midst of them.


There is a global pandemic going on and I’m seeing a lot of comparison and judgment on social media. Friends are judging themselves for a lack of productivity. They are criticizing family members for not getting enough done. Or they are bemoaning the unrealistic expectations of schools and employers.

Can we pause for a moment and dig into this problem calmly and compassionately?

We have all been subjected to a mega-shift in our lives. Most of us have had to adjust all that we do — be it work, parenting, eating, and schooling — to be done 100% at home. That is a fundamental shift in our habits and routines. That is a lot of togetherness if you live with family or roommates, and a lot of alone time if you live alone. And unless you are well-suited for monastic life, you’re also grieving lost connections to a lot of the activities and the being-out-in-the-world things that nourish you.

I imagine that if this shift to our lives were measured like an earthquake, it would be a pretty solid 7 on the Richter scale. Social distancing and isolation isn’t killing us, but it is shaking up our lives in a jarring way. With the tectonic plates of our daily lives shifted so greatly, you can bet there are cracks showing on each of us.

One friend told me that she thought she was doing pretty well with all of this isolation. She and her husband and son had been “living it up” at home enjoying their favorite home-bound hobbies like video games, gardening, and movie nights. But my friend suddenly broke out in hives for no apparent reason. She now suspects that the isolation has affected her more than she noticed or was willing to accept.

On social media, friends are lamenting their lack of energy. They are mentioning all the projects they think they or their spouse should be able to tackle since they are at home all the time. But these same people don’t seem to realize that fatigue is such a potent side-effect of stay-at-home orders.

I’d like to ask that you take a few minutes to think about capacity. Before my knee surgery last fall, I was exercising 5-6 days a week and averaging 12,000 steps a day. Then I had surgery and I couldn’t bear weight on my leg for a month. Dependent on crutches, I had to change everything about my daily routine. Every task that I was used to doing without thinking about it, suddenly required me to think first. How must I do X differently in order to accomplish X and be safe?

The fundamental adjustments to my life were both physically and emotionally exhausting. I simply didn’t have the same capacity that I had before my surgery. To be well during recovery, I had to learn to let myself:

  • accomplish less (and subsequently…)
  • attempt less (and therefore…)
  • set aside unnecessary tasks
  • pause longer between tasks
  • laugh about stupid mistakes
  • not sweat the small stuff (and subsequently…)
  • put more things in the “small stuff” category
  • go to bed at times suited for a small child

Before my surgery, I was a strong, active, capable woman. After my surgery, I was still a strong, active, capable woman, but one who had to make adjustments. I had less capacity to be active the way I was used to. Instead of relying on my legs to carry me through the day, I had to schlep through my days using crutches and my upper body strength — and that’s some workout!

Some days, accepting the change in my capacity was very frustrating, even maddening. I’d have fits of temper when I dropped things (and I dropped so many things!) and it seemed nearly impossible to retrieve them with an immobilized leg. I was annoyed that I was ready for bed by 7pm. At 39-years-old, I felt silly needing a shower chair in order to take a 10 minute shower. But everything in that season came down to capacity. Was I willing to accept and work with the capacity that I had on any given day?

And that’s the question I offer you during this pandemic and period of social isolation. Almost everything about your daily routine has likely changed. The shift is affecting you, whether or not you see or accept its impact. So, what is your capacity today? What is your capacity physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually? What is your capacity at 10am? At 3pm? Or at 7pm?

To be well in times of change, we have to realize and accept that our capacity can fluctuate greatly day-to-day and hour-by-hour. To be well we also have to adjust our expectations of ourselves (and our loved ones). What looks or feels like laziness when we don’t tackle those special projects around the house could in fact be mild depression, numbness, or emotional fatigue — all situational and very understandable.

One of the opportunities of this weird isolation season is to become more emotionally flexible. And generous. Out of an abundance of love and kindness, we can offer ourselves (and others) heaping amounts of grace when we feel like we are failing or when we don’t measure up. Instead of seeing ourselves as slackers, we might consider that we are doing the best we can with the resources that we have at any given moment. Please hear that again…

You are doing the best that you can with the resources you have at any given moment.

I once interviewed a college student who was reapplying for a second year in the same job. He liked the job and was good at it, but he had concerns. The following year he would be a senior preparing to graduate and looking to launch his career. He wasn’t sure he should do the job again or even how to evaluate his readiness to return to the job in light of his different circumstances.

Randomly, I asked him if he was familiar with scuba diving. He said he was. So I asked him to imagine another year on the job like a scuba dive. And then I asked him to evaluate how much air he had left in his tanks. (Because who would go on an extended dive without full or nearly full tanks?) The student later told me that after pondering that question over the next few days, he was able to confidently turn down our job offer. He decided that saying no was the healthiest choice for him and those he would have served through the job.

This is the simple question I offer you in an uncommon time — what is your capacity right now? (Or, what is your loved one’s capacity right now given their unique circumstances?) No matter the answer, you will never regret responding to that question with an overly-generous dose of kindness.


Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels