A fresh new year—the ending of one year and the beginning of another makes us all pause, take note, consider, evaluate. Even when we don’t want to, don’t have the energy to, or don’t believe in setting goals, intentions, or making resolutions–somehow we still in some way find ourselves reflective. Even when we’re afraid all we say we will change and do and accomplish will inevitably fail, and all the ways we plan to better ourselves might end up like last year’s plans. We still find ourselves wanting. New Years resolutions–aren’t they filled with wanting? And there’s nothing really wrong with that in some ways. It’s natural for us to want to improve, change, increase, grow. It’s good and right. It’s the natural way for any living thing: to grow.
Yet I sometimes hear in all our New Years talk a lot of discontent. We chatter on about the things we want to attain for ourselves this year, the things we think we need to have to be happier, more comfortable, more seen and known, contented, successful. In this I think we have to be careful. Yes, let us reflect, let us learn to number our days–but not for our own glory and renown, but for God’s glory and the sake of the kingdom. Let us evaluate where in life we have gotten off track in regard to His purposes for us, and endeavor to readjust.
Gratitude is good and right, too–seeing what we already have, seeing all the gifts of God’s grace, seeing how far He has brought us and trusting Him to carry us all the way Home. Remembering that truly we need far less than we think, remembering that our happiness comes not in our feeding our fleshly desires but in denying them. In letting God fulfill us, satisfy us. Remembering that if we are discontent today with all the bounty we have before us, we will still be discontent tomorrow even if we attain more. Remembering that God alone is our good, our portion, our inheritance–and if we are in Christ, we always have Him, and that is enough. There is always joy available to us, there is always grace as long as we have breath, there is always the opportunity to be content.
In the years before I was a mother, I often would spend a portion of New Years Eve and day journaling about the big moments of the closing year, and the things I felt God had done in me and in my life, and then recording where I found myself at that present time and the scripture I sensed God was highlighting for me for the coming year. This season of motherhood and being late in my fourth pregnancy makes finding such uninterrupted time for journaling scarce. Instead of feeling “behind” because I don’t have all my reflections and thoughts in order by the first of January, I’ve been taking the whole month of January as a time of reflection.
It’s been a sweet month in that way. The rush of the holy holidays behind us, children’s birthdays done for a year, and now stretching before us a string of ordinary days. Back to our common life. Mornings spent mostly at home working on school, house work, small projects here and there, organizing, cooking, playing in the mud and snow, trips to the library, neighborhood walks, books on the couch, pizza on fridays. Weekends spent cramming in as much time with daddy, to-do list items crossed off before baby comes, running errands, worship and rest. There has been a lot of journaling, listening, reflecting in the early morning quiet, when the world is still hushed and dark and I sit with the scriptures and coffee.
But the beginning of this year was also hard. Brandon worked the first two weeks straight without taking a day off, working late into the evenings, and it took a toll on us both. During that time I was also sick with a head cold, as well as some other body grievances, and felt pretty wiped out and depleted. Phoebe has had some major setbacks in her appetite and eating, which has caused me to do a good bit of revamping our usual staples, recipe testing, and recipe hunting, which is all very exhausting. I’ve had my share of breakdowns over the last month, nights when I just end the day in a pool of tears. So yes, January: back to the ordinary, which can be sweet, but also can feel like a slow plod forward with a summit far off in the distance, obscured by clouds. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my way and can’t remember what my course is supposed to be anyway.
It’s never too late to step back and take time, take stock. Even if in your January there wasn’t much time for it, February is as good a time as any.
There are a few extra-biblical resources I would recommend to you if you’re looking for a few books to help you along the way. These particular titles kept coming to mind throughout this past month, books that have grounded and inspired and set me on course.
- The Songs of Jesus: A year of daily devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller
I believe this is the third or fourth year I’ve read through this devotional daily. Some years ago I was studying the Psalms and bought this resource to help stay saturated in them, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really graduate from daily reading the Psalms. This book is helpful in that it is short and entirely feasible to squeeze in when you literally have moments to read before little children’s feet hit the floor. It’s also one I frequently read aloud to Brandon or the kids if they are up early snuggling with me.
- A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
I read this years ago in college but am curious to re-read it lately. This concept of our Christian lives being “a long obedience in the same direction,” the endurance and seemingly slow returns of the Christian life rings true for me lately. The world seems to be spinning ahead faster and faster, and we are a people more entitled and impatient than ever. Yet if we do not remember and return to this reality, that our Christian lives will look more like a long obedience in one narrow direction, I believe we will lose heart and fall away. We need encouragement in our endurance! Also, this book happens to center around the Psalms of Ascent: “I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a ‘long obedience’ without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul.” (Peterson)
- Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson
This book, combined with Emily Freeman’s book below, were two that gave me permission to pursue some dreams and passions and desires of my heart, to make room in my life for creative expression (this blog, photography, knitting, reading) and to see God’s purpose in it. The two books together seemed to have a conversation in my soul that helped me discern more of my purpose, which was incredibly freeing and fruitful.
- A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman
See above. 🙂
- Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges
This one came to me a few years ago in a terrible season of battling a besetting sin. I needed to understand how God’s grace was literally transforming me when I felt that I was making no headway. This is just one of those books I think any Christian can benefit from reading at any time, but particularly those of us who just can’t seem to get beyond moralistic living, those of us who always come to God with our performance in our right hand, whether for good or ill.
I know many people choose a “word” for the year. I find God often seems to choose a word for the year for me, a scripture. (Sometimes I think we are skeptical that God speaks to us in this way, but I have found that if I ask Him to give me a word (scripture) over the coming year, a focus, a truth that He is planning to weave into the fabric of my life in those days–and then I wait for Him to answer–I find that He has always answered. His primary means of speaking to us is through His Word, and He loves His Word (see Psalm 119) and delights to answer a cry from a heart hungry for His Word. I think we can be confident that praying this is praying in accord with His will (1 Jn. 5:14)).
He seems to highlight and repeat a certain scripture to me, something that speaks to a current need or struggle or question. This year, the word “peace” came up in my soul so unexpectedly. We live in tumultuous times, yes, but in my own home and heart, there is a cry for peace! And then, this scripture came up time and time again, everywhere I turned. It will be my focus for the year 2018, and I leave it with you, too, as an encouragement onward in your own race! I hope that in this new year, you and I both find ourselves walking a bit more closely with Jesus, growing in grace.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 esv
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