A new year is a blank piece of paper; a chance to stop and consider how to fine tune our investment in the one wild and precious life that we’ve been given. The “unexamined life is not worth living” is how Socrates put it, and there’s no time riper for examining our lives than now, when the calendar is clean. Rather than just thinking about goals, though, this article reminds me that it makes sense to think about values. Here are some values that need adjusting… more or less.
More Intentionality in affirmation and encouragement – I’ve recently become freshly aware of the power encouragement has, both through experiences of giving and receiving it. Decades ago, in the midst of a depression that came about in the wake of my dad’s death, the person who made the biggest difference in my life did so through encouragement and affirmation. When I thanked him, he said, “All of us know our inadequacies pretty well – what we need is to be told how much we’re loved, where we’re gifted, where we can shine.” While the value of truth telling and hard conversations are also important, I’ve recently reawakened to the value of encouragement and plan to fan it into flame this year.
More Openness to the fullness of life – I’ll be teaching from Ecclesiastes this Sunday, and this coming summer for an outdoor course. This book, more than any in the Bible, invites me to fearlessly live “fully” in every moment. As one poet writes:
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit…” We live in a hyper-insulated world these days, afraid of all that might go wrong if we venture outside our comfort zones, and the fruit of this is a lowering of the bar, so that for too many the biggest adventure of our lives is a visit to the newest movie, or upgrading our xbox. We’re too often missing the reality that in Christ, we’re sometimes invited to step outside the boat, or into the river, or give away the last of our loaves and fishes. What if we said yes, shooting the moon and casting all our hope in the reality that God’s calling us to this next step? What would happen then? Abundant life would happen and by that God doesn’t mean material prosperity necessarily, but fulness, vibrancy, wholeness, right in the thick of the beauty and challenges on our plates.
More Companionship because we’re made for community and relationships. I’ve just finished experiencing an overwhelming outpouring of support in my life from close friends throughout the time of my oldest daughter’s wedding. They helped make the wedding happen in a thousand practical ways and I was reminded throughout the experience of just how priceless deep friendships are. I’m looking for ways to continue fanning those flames of relationship in the coming year.
In addition to human companionship, I’m very much looking forward to nurturing companionship with Christ as I spend 40 days hiking through the mountains in order to learn more about what it means to walk with God. After all, we’re invited to friendship with Jesus, not religious ritual. I hope to learn more lessons about what that really means through my walking days.
More Creativity – For people with responsibilities like work, marriage, family, keeping the car maintained, keeping the sewer line between the house and street flowing freely, keeping the deck stained, there are seasons when it’s hard to be creativity. Our longing to write, paint, create music or pottery, or whatever, is eaten alive by our day job and our night job so that we’ve nothing left for creativity. There’s no sense moaning about it; such seasons simply happen.
On other hand, when one comes up for air, and the creative urges begin demanding they find expression again, it’s important to fan those urges into flames and give the fire some room to grow. I’m going to do that by making a modest commitment to a word count for writing during each two week period of the coming year. Rather than some lofty unattainable goal, I’m shooting for something challenging but doable.
More Vegetables – There’s nothing to say here.
Less Late Nights – Everyone’s at their best at some certain point of the day, and for me it’s that time in the earliest morning hours, around 5:30. As a result, staying up ’til midnight, weary and uncreative, robs me of my best time.
Less Stuff – We’re slowly working our way through the closets and garage because, like plaque in your arteries, possessions have a nasty way of accumulating and then remaining as nothing more than clutter long after they’ve served their purpose. “Give it away” I say, and it’s happening, and it’s liberating.
Less Whining – I love that the Bible invites me to pour my heart out to God with honesty, expressing the full range of lament and praise, joy and sorrow. But there’s one response to reality that God roundly condemns: grumbling, which is this sort of low level whining amongst ourselves about circumstances, leaders, politics, the weather, jobs, customer service quality of Comcast, Seattle traffic and more. The Bible says this is more than just a wast of time; it’s destructive sin. God seems to be saying, “Tell me anything you want about your reaction to life, or your trials or pains or joys. But don’t whine to one another. It’s worthless.”
Less Yes – All these musing about life change have to do with one single thing. I’m trying to answer the question of how to make the most of the few precious days we’ve been given on this earth. The answer, I’m learning, resides in focus. “Fan your gifts into flame” is what Paul said to Timothy, which is a way of saying that you can’t do everything so once you find your calling, don’t worry about saying no to the many sirens of temptation that will come your way. Stay committed to your thing… your craft, your marriage, your kids, your writing, whatever. Give it your best and take of yourself so that you have your best to give. Living into that requires less yes.
What are you saying more or less to in the coming year? I welcome your thoughts.