It was my children’s first day back to school after a holiday break. The school bus was due to pull up to the corner in four minutes. My daughters were doing their last minute gathering of shoes, water bottles, lunches, and backpacks.
“Don’t forget it’s Tuesday,” I called to my eight-year-old daughter as she headed for the boots lying next to the door. “Tennis shoes for P.E.,” I added.
My child stopped dead in her tracks. She turned to face me, gripping her right arm with her left. “Mama, my arm hurts today. Could you write me a note that says my arm is sore?”
You want me to write a note now? You should have thought of it sooner.
Sore arm? Let me guess—too much Wii? I am not writing a note for that.
You will be fine. Come on, we need to go. The bus is coming.
I thought those responses. I thought them all.
But I didn’t say them.
Because as I was thinking about all things I wanted to say, I gave myself a three-second preview of what those responses would do for the situation. From past experiences, I could envision how this situation would play out if I chose sarcasm, hostility, and annoyance over empathy, responsiveness, and respect.
Choosing hostility in a moment of conflict had once resulted in smashing my husband’s coffee pot in the kitchen sink.
And then came regret.
Choosing malice in a moment of conflict had once caused me to squeal my tires in a gravel parking lot.
And then came regret.
Outrage was the reason I lost all control one day when I was unable to locate my car in a sea of vehicles.
And then came regret.
Despite the years that have passed since those incidents, I can still see my children’s faces, staring at me in horror wondering what had become of me in those moments.
Overreaction is what had become of me. It became my middle name. And regret was right there beside it. Regret follows on the heels of overreaction every single time.
I detested myself in those moments. I wanted to run away and hide. But most of all, I didn’t want to be that volatile person anymore. Regret can be a powerful motivator.
How did I begin to choose calm over crazed … reasonable over senseless … composed over fuming? One of my strategies was making a conscious effort to spot the “flowers” instead of the “weeds” in situations and in people. Another tactic was adopting a mantra to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought came to mind, I silenced it with the phrase, “Only Love Today.” Another tactic was to envision my angry words like a car crash, inflicting damage to the person on the receiving end. This led to giving myself a 3-second preview of how a situation would play out if I chose controlling hostility over peaceful compassion.
So there I was, standing in the kitchen on a recent morning, facing one of those fragile situations. I knew my response could either make or break the situation. And something told me that dismissing my daughter’s pain would cause things to quickly deteriorate.
So I took a three-second preview before opening my mouth.
And that’s where the real beauty happened.
While taking that pause, I noticed there were real tears welling in my daughter’s eyes … real tears she didn’t want to fall … real tears she was actually pushing back with her fingers.
That 3-second pause was just long enough for me to realize this sadness, this pain, this worry of my child’s was real. And a note to the P.E. teacher was very important to her.
Grabbing a notepad out of the junk drawer, I scribbled a quick note to the P.E. teacher and handed it to my child.
I never knew I had the power to hand someone a little bit of peace … a tiny corner of comfort … a permission slip to regain composure … but now I do. My compassionate reaction to my child’s situation held the power to save a morning, to save a heart from worry.
“Thank you, Mama,” she said quietly. I actually saw the color coming back to her face.
I thought of my child’s sore arm throughout the day. I knew our conversation could have easily gone another way. And although I don’t always make the right choice with my words, I knew I had that time. Regret was not my companion that day.
“How did P.E. go?” I asked my daughter when she got home from school.
“Well, when I got to P.E., I saw they were doing something I could do, even with a sore arm. So I tucked the note in my pocket and played,” she told me.
There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have given my child that note. My response to her 6:55 a.m. request would have been underlined with control, exasperation, anger, and insensitivity. We probably wouldn’t have made it to the bus, and, most likely, we would have parted on bad terms. She probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make her own good choice in P.E. that day. There would have been no winners in that battle.
By the grace of God, things are different now. I now know every challenging situation does not have to be a contest to be right … to “win” … to have things go the way I want them to go. The goal of each situation is to speak in a way I can be heard … to listen in a way that the other person can be heard … and to walk away feeling at peace with the way the situation was handled.
Today I choose to use the power of the pause—that split-second crack of light that allows compassion, curiosity, and love to enter the room.
If you think you’d like to try, you can begin right here, right now, with the intention that changed my world:
“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.”
Let love start this day.
Let love end this day.
Let love transform the minutes in between.
–Rachel Macy Stafford, from the book ONLY LOVE TODAY
JOIN ME FOR A FALL 2019 SESSION OF SOUL SHIFT! Dear friends, registration is currently open for my personal and supportive online experience created for those yearning to change the way they respond to themselves, loved ones, circumstances, and emotional triggers. This life-changing process is called SOUL SHIFT. Registration closes on September 18, and the journey begins on September 23, 2019. Designed for people with busy lives, the lessons can be completed in ten minutes, on your own time and at your own pace. The way the course is formatted, there is no way to “get behind. ” When you are able to show up, you will gain the tool you need in your life at that time.
Hopeful transformations like these could be yours, too:
“The feeling of joy is a daily part of my life now, and I believe it started with Soul Shift and the subsequent growth that it has brought. My patience and presence with my children have increased; my relationship with my wife is deeper and more connected for the first time in years; I have new friends and a support system through the Soul Shift community group. To say Rachel’s work has changed my life is an understatement. It has had a ripple effect. I am so grounded and so secure in my place in this world now that I want to help others feel that way too. We all have different paths in how we can get there, but we can get there. I was beginning to doubt if I would ever get there before Soul Shift.” –B.F.
“Thank you, Rachel Macy Stafford, for teaching me to be present, for helping me understand the importance of self worth, for encouraging me to banish perfection, and for reminding me to kick that inner bully to the curb. I need these lessons, and I hope to share this wisdom with my daughters too.”–C.C
“Rachel Macy Stafford, you give us hope. Thank you for sharing your story. Seeing you now it's hard to believe you came from a place of self-criticism and harsh criticism of your loved ones. Knowing you came out of that gives me hope that I can too.”-L.S.
“I finally feel like I’m becoming the mom, wife, and friend that I’ve always wanted to be. I didn’t need to be like someone else, just be a softer, more present and more authentic version of me. Thank you, Soul Shifters and Rachel, for giving me the tools to do it!” -K.B.
“Thank you, Rachel Macy Stafford. This course has been life changing in many ways. I feel the shift happening slowly and see it in my loved ones eyes.”–A.B.
Today can mark a new beginning for you. I believe it is NEVER TOO LATE to live the life you want to live or be the person or parent you want to be. The tools, accountability, and support you will receive throughout this 8-week SOUL SHIFT journey will facilitate one of life’s hardest, but greatest opportunities: learning to give unconditional acceptance to yourself, so you can give unconditional acceptance to those you love. My hand in yours.