When my husband approached me about becoming debt free, with a brand new baby, a house we didn’t own, and a four year timeline for our final student loan pay off, to say I was hesitant would be an understatement.
In my head, I pictured scrimping, saving, no dinners out (I had just discovered Chipotle!), no splurges, no fun. And in my head, it looked bleak. It sounded hard. I didn’t feel like doing something that hard for that long.
But my heart had been working on respecting my husband. On really listening to what he needed from me, not me deciding what he needed from me. And I could tell this was really important. I could tell he was willing to lead the charge, make the sacrifices, and work extra to make this happen.
So even though in my head I couldn’t shake the image I had of 4 excruciatingly hard years, my heart said yes. My heart will do anything for that man.
The Surprising Way Becoming Debt Free Changed Me (It’s Not What You Think!)
And it all started out almost fun. Cutting line items in the budget. Selling our excess. Thinking of creative housing solutions. All of it was fun.
What wasn’t fun was doing math at the grocery store and making sure we could afford our grocery list. Because of some health issues and foods we can’t eat, coupons weren’t an option for us. And neither was a diet of rice and beans. Over and over I found myself choosing foods I didn’t like (sweet potatoes and winter squashes) over foods I did like (pretty much anything besides sweet potatoes and winter squashes) because they stretched farther.
Trying new recipes while figuring out some healthier eating options meant a lot of recipe mishaps. And every time a recipe didn’t turn out, I’d get madder and madder. Wasted ingredients meant wasted money. And a tighter budget.
And to make this incredible push of paying off our student loan debt, my husband worked more and more hours to bring in any extra income he could. And that meant seeing him less and less.
Truthfully, I let it all get the better of me. I let a bad 5 minutes become an entire bad day. I focused on the inconveniences instead of the victories. And what I looked for was what I saw – the bad, the hard, the stuff I didn’t really want to do.
I didn’t even notice I was doing it. I didn’t notice that when my husband would ask me about my day that I would list off only bad things about my whole day. And then those bad things would make me think of more bad things. And more bad things. And that continued for days that turned into weeks and weeks that turned into months.
I didn’t become an overnight frugalista. But I was reminded of one simple truth.
Before I go one step farther, I need to say this: I absolutely do not think we should just gloss over the hard things that are going on. We should not slap on a smile and pretend it’s all “ok” when it’s not. I for one am a hot mess and often need help sorting through my mess to see things a little more clearly.
I also believe what I look for is what I’ll see. So if I happen to get a 5 am wake up call by one of my darling children and then spill some milk and someone throws food at the wall and I start raising my voice and kids get whiny and that’s all I see and focus on, that’s what will keep growing in my house.
But if when I wake up at 5 am I notice the baby’s tooth finally cut through and when I spill the milk I acknowledge the 5 year old grabbing a towel to help clean it up and when the food gets thrown at the wall I remind my child that isn’t what food is for, I am looking for good things and I am seeing more and more good things.
Life is hard. That’s a reality. There’s no magic solution, no formula, no pill, product, or path that promises an easy life. So I think it’s ok and good and necessary to be real about the hard things.
And at the same time, we can look for good, notice beauty, point out help, acknowledge awesome.
We sat at dinner one night and I was in my usual daily dung dump of all the things I had endured that day. My husband asked me to tell him something I was thankful for that day.
“How dare he!” I thought. “He’s not even listening to me.” But I did it. I thought of something. It was small. Most likely about one of our kids and how cute they were. That was about all I had.
And every night when I would start complaining, he would ask for more things I was thankful for. Some nights I would still think “How dare he!” and some nights, I was glad for the breath of fresh air.
One night I ended my diatribe with “and today I’m thankful for…” before he could ask. I thought maybe then I could keep doing what I was doing and not be called out to change anymore.
Then he encouraged me to not complain the next day. And in my head I thought I didn’t complain that much so I would prove it by not complaining for the week.
During that week, someone handed out Bible verse memory cards at a Bible study. One was from 1 Corinthians 10:10.
And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel.
Oh, that was timely.
I soon realized how little I had to talk about when we talked if I wasn’t going to complain. So I started writing down everything I had to be thankful for in a little notebook. Mommy brain had set in thick and the fog was great. I wasn’t going to try to remember all on my own.
And can I say: more than anything, this finding something to be thankful for has helped me through the hardest things. It doesn’t change the hard things. It just helps me to remember that the hard thing doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there are always good things to notice.
What you look for is what you’ll see. So, look for things to be thankful for.
After being reminded to use this perspective in hard seasons, I totally turned this on my marriage. I decided to just be thankful for my husband. For the easy things to be thankful for like his sexy beard and the way he rubs my ear lobes when I’m falling asleep. But also in the hard things, like his soul-sucking job that fed us and habits that I could see potential for growth in but that just weren’t there yet.
And can I just say that this has been an amazing exercise? Not only does it keep me focused on good things about him, I am reminded to tell him and thank him and I see him grow in that.
Sometimes, I’ll be honest, it’s hard to feel thankful for my husband. We have off days (longer even), we have hard conversations, finances get tight, sleep gets deprived, and it’s not always easy.
Whichever of these two places you find yourself, I’d love to invite you to spend 10 days praying for your marriage with me. We’ll walk through 1 Corinthians 13. Each morning, a prayer will be sent to you to help you grow in thankfulness in your marriage.
When I want to be thankful and I can’t think of anything I’m thankful for, I ask for help. I KNOW I have things to be thankful for but I’m working through the yuck and I can’t sort it out. So I pray it out. Journal it out as a prayer. Let’s join up and do it together!
What is a surprising and good habit that you learned during a really hard season? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!