The beginning of wisdom…
Idon’t do New Year’s resolutions. They end up being just one more list of things “to do” that I get resentful and guilty about, and I am generally over them before mid February rolls around. For the last couple of years, I’ve instead been praying for God to help me identify one area of my character that needs development and focusing on that for a year. I’ve found that the “one word” approach winds up impacting far more areas of my life than if I’d listed out 10 or 12 resolutions, and often with lasting and unexpected results.
In 2011, my word was “patience.” I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about embracing that word, to be honest, because generally when you pray for patience, God gives you things to be patient about! In fact, as I was praying for scripture to go along with my one word for the year, I was repeatedly drawn to this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
1 Corinthians 13:4
I thought, “Oh good! My word will be ‘love’! I’ll get to practice being loving all year!”
Yeah… no. Read that scripture again, and you’ll see that love is… patient. It’s the first word used to describe love. And I have to be honest and say that my reaction was denial. And “oh crap.” But after a few weeks of prayer, it was evident that’s the word I was supposed to adopt for the year, and so I did. And it was really, really hard – as hard and as painful as I expected it to be. But the fruit has been amazing. Every single time someone says to me, “I so admire how patient you are” or “You were so patient with that person” (and people do actually say those things to me), I am reminded of that difficult year and grateful that its fruit is evident in my life.
This year, my word was “fearless.” I have had a tendency to make choices and decisions based on managing my life (and – sometimes – the lives of others) to certain “acceptable” outcomes. And by “acceptable” I mean “acceptable to me.” When I am tested for my strengths, one of the things that comes to the top every single time is strategic thinking, so when I look at circumstances or situations, I am constantly evaluating all the potential outcomes, repercussions, consequences, and resources affected. It’s how I’m wired, and I think that this can be a good thing in the right situation. Unfortunately, when left to its own devices, that “gift” can become an obsession with control – and it’s exhausting. I also realized that it’s based in a kind of fear thinking, which turns out to be rooted in a lack of trust that anyone besides myself – including God – will provide for me emotionally, spiritually, and practically. My scripture for this year was from Isaiah:
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
This was the year I left behind nearly 30 years of work in administration and business management in exchange for a more creative life. I quit my job in May, cashed out the $10,000 in my 401(k) account, and spent the next six months drinking in every creative bit of life I could get my hands on: classes, books, new friends, new techniques, jewelry making, photography, all of it. I found that I was willing to let go of situations and outcomes – even areas of ministry – that I had been clinging to pretty fiercely, because I believed that they defined me in some way. Through it all, God provided. Nick supported me. We still have our house and are able to pay our bills. I am able to relax in the moment, and not “burn brain cells” (as my husband calls it) worrying about or planning for what might happen. I have found an artistic teacher and mentor in Gail Stouffer, which is a gift I will cherish for my whole life, and I have discovered that the absence of fear isn’t recklessness. It’s freedom.
And freedom in Christ is an amazing, stunning, extraordinary thing.
So as I am preparing for the beginning of the new year, I have been praying about what my one word for 2013 should be. As always, this process begins for me with a search for scripture that speaks to the area of my life that will be my focus. I am not entirely sure I have narrowed down the scripture, but I am leaning towards “intentional” as the word.
Intentional: Something done with intention or purpose; by design.
Initially, I was a little concerned about this word, because it walks very close to the line that separates it from “control” – and I have an issue with control, as I’ve already said. I don’t want to become so intentional that I go back to fixating on control. Interestingly, the scriptures I’ve been led to all deal with wisdom – and most are in Proverbs, which is an extremely practical book. Here are some of the candidates:
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
That last one is really interesting to me. I’ve certainly been guilty of being defensive about things when people who loved me tried to speak truth into my life. (Note: in my experience, any time I get defensive about something, it usually marks an area of sin that need examination.) The temptation is to excise those people, to disqualify them somehow so that truth can be disregarded. But if we can set aside our pride long enough to consider the advice or observations being given – to be intentional in our response to it instead of reactionary – we can open ourselves to real growth and God-inspired change. Sometimes those conversations are hard and painful, but I have been deeply grateful for those people brave enough to risk rejection and my pride, to be used by God to help me grow. (You know who you are!)
So this year, I think my word is going to be “intentional.” It’s a risk, because I have a tendency towards control, but I am trusting God to show me the difference. There’s a need in my life for discipline without rigidity, for planning with flexibility, for goal-setting without managing to my “acceptable” outcomes, for responding without reacting. I think “intentional” sums that up – and it also seems a logical outgrowth of “patience” and “fearlessness” and the essence of Godly wisdom. I’m still looking for the scripture that will lay the foundation for the journey – if you have suggestions, will you help me by leaving them in the comments?
What about you? Do you have a word you’re pursuing for 2013? I’d love to hear about it!