Change Your Phrasing


Sometimes a change in the way your thoughts are worded can help give you new perspective. Two examples are “I cannot,” and “I must.” I suggest you change them to “I can,” and “I am free to.”

Can You?

What is it that you cannot do? Speak French? Find time to draw? Sing? Understand chemistry? Get out of a wheelchair? List all the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Now rewrite each one as an “I can” statement, with whatever other information will make that statement true.

  • I can speak French if I decide to take lessons and practice.
  • I can find time to draw when my youngest enters kindergarten.
  • I can sing if I am alone.
  • I can understand chemistry if I get books at an elementary level.
  • I can move without my wheelchair if I’m in the pool, if I’m a passenger in a car, and when I get to Heaven.

Three things happen when you take time to reshape these statements:

  1. You keep a door open to new possibilities where “can’t” would have placed a wall.
  2. You take responsibility for choosing not to move further along in some area, rather than passively accepting it as a condition you can’t help.
  3. You stop labelling yourself with limitations you’ve accepted as parts of your identity, and realize the “cannots” in your life are not of the essence of who you are.

Ask Christ to help you do something you “cannot” do. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

May You?

You are a dutiful, responsible person, so it’s easy to accumulate a lot of “musts” in life. You may hear “I have to,” or “It’s my duty to,” instead. List them all. Then reshape those statements.

  • DetailVilhelmHammershiAnOldWomanGoogleArtProject“I must care for my aging mother” becomes “I am free to care for Mom, and I am free to make other arrangements, or to ask for help if needed.”
  • “I must do well on this test” becomes “I am free to do well on this test, or to re-take the whole class, or to change majors.”
  • “I must get dinner on the table” becomes “I am free to serve dinner, and free to admit I dropped that ball tonight.”
  • “I must keep the house in good order” becomes “I am free to do my housekeeping, and free to let it slip now and then without fussing or becoming anxious about it.”
  • “I must support my church financially” becomes “I am free to tithe, free to offer other kinds of help instead, and free to gradually raise the amount I can give.”

Again, the verbal changes help you realize what your thoughts are in the first place, and then to recognize possibilities and alternatives that were shut out of your thinking. The word “must” can cause you to narrowly focus in on one act, or course of action, that grows more and more burdensome to you as you lose sight of your freedom to keep choosing this action over others. Where “I cannot” shuts a door against you, “I must” forces you through a single door – often, over and over.

ChristCarryingTheCrossPiomboThe highest freedom is to do what you must, freely. The key is consciously, freely choosing. Obligation and duty then become opportunities to enlarge your freedom rather than to become an automaton. Christ yearns to help you in this, as He died to lift you into His own glorious freedom. Here’s a great section of the Catholic Catechism to memorize:

By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. “For freedom Christ has set us free” [Galatians 5:1]. In him, we have communion with the “truth that makes us free” [cf John 8:32]. The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” [2 Corinthians 3:17]. Already we glory in the “liberty of the children of God” [Romans 8:21] (CCC 1741).

The subtle, positive shift in your perspective comes with a bonus. If you practice cultivating your own interior freedom, your actions will gain an ease that leads to greater joy in the doing. You’ll become an invitation to freedom for others as you are energized by this newness of life. Enjoy!


Art: An old woman, Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1886, PD-US author’s life plus 95 years or less, published in U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; Christ Carrying the Cross, Sebastiano del Piombo, 1535-1540, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; both Wikimedia Commons.

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