New Year, New Me?

I am spending my final hours of 2018 disinfecting surfaces and purging leftovers, outgrown clothing, and unnecessary expectations.  Those all need to go. And as they go, I’m reflecting on the year. It was a good one; by far not my most exciting, but certainly not my most tragic.  And amidst all of the crazy and the mundane, one truth stands out: I was more relaxed and less stressed than I have been in the past. I’ve been more able to shed stressors, ignore negativity, and experience fulfillment.  On a practical level, I’m sitting in my pile of stuff today, bagging it, trashing it, or setting it away, hypothesizing why.

I’ve spent a long span of my lifeline caring an awful lot about tangibles and intangibles that, if I’m honest, don’t matter.  I have cared what people thought about me way too much. I have thought about financial competition far too often. I have worried about success measured by weight loss, number of volunteer hours, fleeting happiness, and other gauges that are at best, unreliable, and at worst, a distraction from what matters.  

As I have sifted through all of the variables to get to some scientific reason for my greater contentment this year, my focus has continued to return to one element: my conscious decision to live authentically FOR ME.  My prayer has been constantly to know what God wants FROM ME and FOR ME, and to lean into that expectation. That has happened in many ways, from how I’ve given of my time and finances, to how I’ve let go of expectations of time and effort that, while good, were taking away from His plans for me.  

I see this tug in all of us in some way.  We feel inhibited by expectations. Our boss wants one thing from us, our spouse another, our friends want something else.  We become overwhelmed in the balancing act of all of it. Sometimes we feel empty, and we fill that longing with tasks, hobbies, items,and ideas that grow beyond our control of them.  Maybe we simply feel lost. I’ve been there, too. I didn’t know at all what I needed at turning points in my life, and I became frustrated, sad, and lonely. I blamed circumstances, I blamed others, I blamed God.  

As I write it out this way, I realize that the part of me that has most changed in recent years is that I have learned how to recognize what I need and balance it with contentment for what I have.  Knowing yourself is a lengthy and sometimes scary endeavor, but it is a journey that is well worth the trouble. There is vulnerability in being honest with yourself, but there is also strength. I choose daily to love my life and the choices that got me here.  Dwelling on mistakes I’ve made or what I don’t have does not make me who I want to be.

I can see that this sounds like a real “rah-rah” know yourself hug fest.  It’s why I sometimes avoid this topic, like I avoid vapid self-help books.   I am all about it: personal strength, contentment, self-love, but I can’t let this moment flit by without emphasizing what truly makes this work for me.  God has made this work for me. Sounds trite, I know. I could quote a bevy of Bible verses here, but instead, I’ll just say that my belief in a Creator has allowed me to accept the way I was created and also to know that I am part of a plan.  There is nothing trite about that. I know for me, that learning about myself, instead of breeding selfishness and self-love, has turned me outward more and more. I don’t have to worry about myself. I can set personal goals, have hobbies and interests, and be fun, silly, serious, as the situation requires.  But I also have much more time and energy to be something for someone else. I have more time to listen, more time to help, more wisdom and love to share. New Year’s is often a selfish time- our resolutions are wrapped up in our wants and needs, our well-laid plans, our meaningful attempts at change. But in all of this climbing toward contentment, I have found myself most able to shed selfishness and live a life reflective of Christ.  I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m proud to see progress. Tracing God’s promises fulfilled over the years, His provision during emptiness, His wisdom in my trouble, I am confident in His plan, and I’m thankful for contentment. It has taken me a long time to find it.

I’m not a real proponent of New Year’s resolutions, but I pray for all of you, as well as for me this year, these things: opportunities to grow, an ability to know yourself, an abiding faith in positive outcomes, a deep understanding of God’s plan for you, and contentment that breeds joy rather than competition that breeds anxiety.

God Knew

I imagine the night as cold and bustling, noisy and confused.  It might feel like the stereotypical family vacation: tired children, stressed mamas, frustrated fathers.  It probably didn’t sound like silence, look like glittering candlelight, feel like a fireside.  Welcome to our world, Jesus.

For the many, many years that prophets had told of Him, you would think the world would have been better prepared.  Glistening garlands, choruses of carols, abundant presents, and above all, lives scrubbed clean for the arrival of a Messiah.  But just like the last-minute shoppers, the impatient workers, the frustrated families, the people weren’t ready.  God knew; there was no facade of preparation and perfection that could trick His omniscient eye.  He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway.

God knew that Jesus was coming to a stable, not a palace.  He knew that His first bed would be a manger, not a crib.  He knew that Jesus would be denied, hated, discounted, and betrayed.  He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway. As Chris Rice sings, He “wraps our injured flesh around Him”, “Breathes our air and walks our sod”.  He is with us, among us, one of us, but Holy. Oh, so Holy.

Today, not much has changed.  He knows our world is broken, violent, ambivalent.  He knows my heart is selfish and self-righteous.  He sees my unpreparedness, and He gives me Jesus anyway.  Like the neighbor with no pretense, He invites himself into our mess, if we are willing.  And, whether ignored or rejected, He keeps offering to walk among us, with us, beside us.

It feels fitting that the first Christmas was housed in a stable.  Because really, our lives are so much more like stables than palaces.  At best, mundane and simple; at worst, dirty and unkempt.  And at the center of it all, God births Holiness right onto the earth.  He knew how badly we needed Him.  And He knew that no matter how long He waited, the world would not be ready.  How could we be?  Yet here He is.  Emmanuel. God with us. The most timely gifts come at the most unexpected moments, and the most needed presents are often the most surprising.  God doesn’t wait for us to ask for what we need; He knows, just like He knew then.

jesus christ figurine

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