When I was in my late teens, I stumbled upon a piece of advice. To think about the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. In a world where there were so many other things I could think about – how other people had things I would never have, how no matter what I did I could not crack an “A” in Creative Writing (seems ironic, that), all the upset and turmoil that accumulate in the life of a teenager – I chose to try that piece of advice out. And it has never let me down once. Not once.
And the cool thing is, as I have got older, the number of things in these categories has grown bigger. Because I can add experiences that demonstrate the true, the right, the admirable and noble and praiseworthy. I can remember friends throwing me a surprise 30th for my 29th because they knew it would take me longer than a year to build real friendships in a foreign land – noble, and excellent, and inevitably right too. Or sitting in the sun under a tree watching the kids playing, and having one of them ask “tell us a story – you tell good stories.” Or more recently, when friends have encouraged me. Or even watching Little Person determinedly finishing building a Lego set, because she finally understood how the instructions worked.
The list tells me to find the blessings in the everyday. The list tells me not to think (and by think I mean constantly return my thoughts to in a meditative kind of way) about the things that are not on the list. So people’s motives are seldom pure, right? So don’t sit there wondering why he did that thing. You’ll never know, because chances are he doesn’t fully know himself. Find the true, and noble thing. Find the thing that you can pass on to the next generation, the way noblemen pass on titles and properties. Find the lovely thing – the thing that should be loved just because it is. The admirable thing – the thing that makes you step back in wonder. Find the excellent and praiseworthy thing – the thing you can’t help getting excited about.
Sometimes it’s tricky. Sometimes the list itself, the knowing that these are the things to think about, is the excellent thing. Sometimes you have to cling on and know that those things are out there, and you will see them again, but in the meantime you’re going to concentrate on what you remember of them. But when it’s hard like that – and believe me, it can be hard – that’s when the list comes into its own. That’s when all the practice of thinking these things comes in handy. That’s when you have to remember, and be really intentional about your thinking.
Because there are some things that we think we should put on that list that aren’t actually there – beautiful, whole, happy, promises, wishes, the future. Because a thing that is true, noble, pure and right will be beautiful – no matter what it looks like. But a thing may be beautiful to look at, but toxic to your soul. And broken things are lovely, excellent and praiseworthy too. And sometimes happy things just make us sadder, which is why we should think of those things that inspire us (which is, in part, what the list describes). Promises? The future? Sometimes they can seem so distant, so intangible. But the praiseworthy thing that we know about – that we remember, that is personal to us – sometimes we can hold on tightly, and discover hope.
So whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
(And yes, that little bit of advice is from the Bible – Philippians 4:8 to be exact. But I think it’s a good piece of advice for anybody.)