One Step at a Time

The more I read, the hungrier I became for God’s Word. by Emily Marszalek

I was what many referred to as a “Negative Nancy.” Saddled with pessimism and stress, silver linings often seemed invisible. I assumed and expected the worst in even the best situations. Although I was desperate to change, the task seemed virtually impossible. 

“What if,” I asked myself, “I just pretend to be a positive person? If I mimic the attitude and behavior of a positive person, would I actually become more positive myself?” Pondering the potential effectiveness of the “fake it ’til I make it” approach, I recalled an experience more than 10  years prior that reminded me that genuine change is possible, and that it happens just one step at a time. 

As I concluded the last minutes of my interview for an Army ROTC scholarship in 2008 with a hard-faced lieutenant colonel, he looked me up and down and said, “If you do this program, you will struggle physically.” Internally mortified, I nodded in understanding.

Eventually selected for the scholarship, I gratefully accepted. My apprehension, however, was difficult to conceal. Rappelling, rucksack marches and field training were only the beginning of the physical demands. I would take an army physical fitness test during my first week of school, involving two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups and a two-mile run, which I needed to pass in order to remain in the program. 

I was no athlete. I had never done a pushup and viewed running as more punishment than a pastime. I knew the lieutenant colonel was right. With things as they were, I would struggle. Determined to transform my physical condition, I adopted the kind of training program I figured a fit individual would follow.

Beginning the morning after my high school graduation, I arose at 6:00 and commenced my day with a run. My parents’ house was located two miles away from a grocery store and my goal was to make it to that grocery store and back.

That first day, it was four miles of pure horror. I failed to run even a quarter of the way there and struggled to catch my breath anytime I broke into a jog. By the time I reached the grocery store, my hamstrings burned, my feet ached and my heart thumped ferociously. Despite yearning to tap out, I continued until the four miles were complete. Attempting to ignore my sore muscles and the doubts flooding my mind, I arose the next morning to repeat the venture and the next day and the next day, each day running a larger portion of that four-mile trek.

Before I knew it, I was able to run the whole route with ease. To my surprise, instead of pain and loathing, I felt excited for my morning runs. Adding a variety of calisthenics and strength training following my run each day, including the dreaded pushup, I was gripped by the mounting strength and endurance I began to feel in my body. By the end of summer, I was in the best shape of my life. What started as a “fake it ’til I make it” approach to fitness had morphed into authentic change.

My efforts were much rewarded. Not only did I have no issue keeping up with the rest of the cadets, I led them. I was the only freshman to score well above 300 points on the army physical fitness test, clocked my two-mile run at 12:20 and could perform more pushups than many of the males.

Recalling this journey toward athleticism all those years ago, I gleaned inspiration for my present journey toward positivity. Formulating and adopting a list of behaviors I envisioned a genuinely positive person performing, I started small, incorporating just one simple behavior.

Each day while I got ready for work, I began verbalizing things I was grateful for. From the warm shower to delightfully scented body wash, a running vehicle to my two goldendoodles who fill me with great joy. I began my morning expressing gratitude to God. I came to find that deliberately choosing to reflect on how blessed I was helped me start my day off with my heart and mind already oriented toward gratefulness and optimism. Thanking God for all His blessings in my life, I found there was simply less time and less room for negative thoughts. While this first step toward change was minimal, it had a monumental impact on my attitude. I decided to take another small step toward positive change by incorporating another habit. 

In stressful situations where it seemed everything was going wrong, I began to deliberately focus on just one thing going right. I quickly recognized that even when it seemed everything that could go wrong was going wrong and my day was in shambles, there was always a plethora of things that were going right. I found it only took this quick reorientation of focus to recognize that despite the way it felt in the moment, things were never as bad as they seemed. 

Saturating myself with God’s Word also played a fundamental role in my journey toward change. I began by reading just one Bible verse a day to meditate on for a few moments before heading off to work. As the impact of that small dose of Scripture helped me throughout the day, I slowly incorporated more Bible into my life. The more I read, the hungrier I became for God’s Word. Reading the Bible and filling my heart with truth and hope has now become as fundamental a part of my morning routine as brushing my teeth, leaving less and less room for negativity and hopelessness to brew. 

Just as I slowly grew in physical strength and endurance all those years back, I’m slowly morphing into a more positive person. While I still regularly struggle with negative thoughts, I know genuine change is underway and God will continue to meet me daily where I am, as I seek Him. All it took was that first small step in the right direction.

Is there an area of your own life you’ve been longing to change? Take that first step today. Do you want to start reading the Bible? Start with just three minutes a day. Want to become a more grateful person? End your day verbalizing three things you’re thankful for. Want to be a more loving person? Look for one opportunity to compliment, encourage or bless someone else every day.

The Apostle Paul states in Romans 13:11, “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (NIV). The hour has come for us to wake from our slumber and state of complacency and take the first step toward positive change. The time is now. 

As you take that first step today, God will meet you where you’re at and help bring you to where you’re called to be.  

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