Happy New Year folks. Well, I’ve been at this blogging thing since May and have posted 32 times! This is a minor miracle in my view as I can easily get swept into other initiatives. The best part is that I’ve heard back from at least one reader for each post who has encouraged me to keep going. Your comments and insights have been so encouraging so please keep them coming! I love learning from you all and am grateful that so many of you have stayed connected.
Now, lets talk about new beginnings. It’s the new year after all.
New Year, New You?
Hmmm. I’m skeptical.
Mostly because I know myself. And I know many of you. And while I know we’re all in different seasons and different stages of life I am sure of this: You and I are far more similar than we are different.
If you feel yourself wondering where all the holiday spunk went you’re in good company. Because let me tell you…2018 rolled over without much fanfare in our household. We got home from a holiday trip and found ourselves in much the same place we were in at the beginning of December. It was back to work for us. Bills need to be paid, laundry needs to be done, groceries need to be bought.
To be honest, this was a bit disheartening for me that first week of January so I took some to mull it all over. I thought about last year – the highs and the lows – and it didn’t take long for me to start considering elaborate plans for the new year. More regimented workouts. Clear writing goals. A color coded budget with tighter categories.
A few days of this though was all I needed to feel quite sick of it all, thank you very much. The older I get the less I’m able to cling to systems. All the more I find myself reaching out for relationship.
The defining word for my life in 2017 was this: Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.
God, quite kindly and clearly, read me my mail in 2017 by showing me how easily I descend into elaborate mental plans and escape routes when all he asks me to do is lift up my face.
Hold up my hands. Wait for him. Wait on him.
And grow stronger in the waiting.
So as I sat in a coffee shop last week and felt “out of tune” with the plans I was writing out for myself I looked down at my watch and realized I had 45 minutes left until I had to pick my kid up for lunch. I could get that workout in that I’d been putting off all morning and be done with it. More than that, I’d actually be doing the thing that most new year’s plans revolve around. An actual, legitimate workout.
Business guru Seth Godin says it well in his book Tribes. “If religion comprises rules you follow, faith is demonstrated by the actions you take. When you lead without compensation, when you sacrifice without guarantees, when you take risks because you believe, then you are demonstrating your faith…Of course it’s difficult… But it’s worth it.”
Can we be honest for a minute? The things we really want in life are things we have ZERO control over. Sure, you might want to lose 10 pounds in 2018. But I’m betting more than the 10 pounds you want to be the type of person who can feel comfortable enough to stay at a table that makes you nervous without forking food you aren’t hungry for into your mouth. I know I do. Or maybe you want to plan to stop spending frivolously and start contributing to a retirement plan or to a downpayment fund. I bet more than anything though what you really want is access to the inner peace that follows on the heels of good stewardship.
These heart level desires are the things that plans point to, yes, but they are also the things that I am convinced can only be achieved in partnership with the Holy Spirit of God.
Can I share an excerpt from an interview I heard the other day? Jen Hatmaker spoke with Chris Heuertz about his work with the Enneagram. While his thoughts on that test were interesting, I most quickly identified with his description of his time in his early 20s when he worked alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.
He says the following:
“She was fierce…on one hand you would see her holding a half-starved child or carrying a man who’s dying from tuberculosis across the street with such tenderness and care. Then on the other hand, she was a ball buster like, “Get out of my way,” and don’t stop her, and don’t try to slow her down. I’ll say this; the things that we learn from all of our mentors are less the words they tell us, and more how we watch them live. I watched her, and five times a day, along with the other sisters, they would stop for prayer, for adoration, for mass, for solitude, silence, and stillness…And what that taught me was that all the years that I was around her and all the works that I did in India, we used to think, “Man, they have to pray. They have to pray five times a day to support their efforts.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
People who didn’t know Mother Teresa ultimately remember her for the stunning works she did among the poorest of the poor. And they were stunning. But the people who walked it with her? They remembered how she depended on the Holy Spirit of God for the strength she needed to hold another dying soul. Because lets be clear. A life lived among the dying requires a strength that no human can muster on his or her own. You’d lose your mind.
Her action plan, if you wrote it out, probably looked a lot more like this
- Bathe the leper in front of me
- Ask Jesus for strength
- Write the letter.
- Cook the meal.
- Ask Jesus for a clear mind.
- Encourage a fellow sister
- Show the volunteer how to dress the wound compassionately.
- Ask Jesus for more help to make it to the end of the day.
Friends, do any of us know what we’re doing here? It’s a strange world where narcissists become President and people bully each other on a medium that 30 years ago no one had ever heard of – the internet. Truthfully, chaos feels so near, so often.
Yet if we commit to doing nothing else in 2018 but consistently returning back to the Source of our strength and saying we “Just can’t do it without him” I think we will find at the end of the year that we really could do it when we find that we actually did it with Him.
I have some plans for 2018. Some of them are loose. One of them has a remarkably clear action step that actually makes me sweat. All of them are part of a life full of goals for relational, spiritual and cultural fruit. And after 12 plus years in this game with God as my partner I can say that not a single one of them will come to fruition without the help of the Lord. I get in my own way. I’ve tried to do things on my own in the past and while I may have succeeded with an end result I’ve burned a bridge too many doing it that way. Some of those bridges were with other people and most of those bridges were the ones that connected my mind, heart and soul together. Which is not, in the end, a success.
So who’s in for a Spirit-led 2018? Who’s in for full days asking God for help with the next right thing. What else are we really going to do? I’m afraid we can strategize until the cows come home only to find ourselves lacking any power to make those plans come about.
Didn’t St. Paul say it best?
“the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20
So here’s the real plan. I’m going to make some plans for 2018 and I’m going to hold them loosely. Everyday I’ll wake up and figure out a couple of things I can do to move those balls forward. And everyday I’ll pause at points throughout the day and ask for help. I’m not sure how it will all turn out. I am sure that some days will go as planned and some days we’ll fall off the wagon. But I also know there will be grace in it all and opportunities to grow in the highs and the lows. And that’s exciting to me. I like to envision myself on the eve of 2019 realizing that I’ve made it to high vistas and through low valleys with the help of the Holy Spirit and the community he’s given me.
So here’s to another year of stumbling forward. You in?