One word to guide an entire year - so simple yet complex. How can one word frame 365 days, 52 weeks, 8760 hours, 525,600 seconds? I believe the simplicity of it drew me in the most. The concept of one being the guiding force and focus wasn't a new concept, as a person who worships one triune God. One who embodies three. One who made billions in his image. One from whom all guidance is derived. Lifetimes of complexity within the simplicity of one.
In 2014 I read an article encouraging Christians to pick a word for the year to focus on. This was really helpful for me. I started 2015 with "Christ-exalting." This single word helped me through some really tough times relationally. It also helped me to more clearly see the best solution to any problem that came my way - as small as being annoyed to as big as handling a couple entertaining divorce. I would ask, what decision, what piece of advice, what action would most exalt Christ, and there my answer would be. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that whatever we do, we should do to and for the glory of God. Doing this helped me turn every potentially negative experience into a positive and eased my approach to difficult circumstances. This provided me assurance that if it was God's glory I was after, his mercy and grace would cover my mistakes.
Over the course of our lives we can hear a word hundreds of times but then one day it resonates with a new infatuation. In 2016 the word "long suffering" found me and manifested throughout the year in two of the most important areas of my life: my first child and my church. I had never used this word but when I saw the definition, "patiently enduring hardship," it grabbed hold of me. While we know that long-suffering will be part of childbirth (ahem 30+ hours of suffering laboring) and raising a child, often I believe we forget that we should expect it to be a major part of our relationship with our church (and every area of our life as a Christian). Because Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Jesus was made perfect through suffering, I have to believe his church and his people are also made perfect through suffering. Its a hard concept to swallow in our instant gratification, feelings-driven, truth-forsaken, self-focused culture, but this counter-culture aspect of Christianity is what makes it stand out. Jesus suffered tremendously for his people and for his church , which Acts 20:28 says he bought with his blood. The most valuable things in life are the ones we have had to long-suffer in. As Romans 5:3-5 tells us, suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope which does not put us to shame. We should expect and delight in long-suffering as it shows Christ's power at work in us.
"Presence" is the word for 2017. For too long I've seen people as either 1) They love me unconditionally so I can sacrifice being present with them for the sake of strangers who "need" me or 2) A responsibility instead of a relationship. Typically with each new person I meet, I feel an additional responsibility to do or be something for them. Adding people to my life, on top of my new role as a mother, became exhaustive very quickly which led me to realize my thinking was flawed. Now seeing people as a responsibility isn't 100% flawed, but it is to a degree. Some of that thinking is probably from leading people and some from focusing on my responsibilities in Christ to love others, but I believe there is an internal component too, perhaps where the flaw lies:
Shauna Niequist explained, "We don't believe people will actually love us if we stop performing and stop being the one who is always bringing and helping. My friends don't need me to be efficient as they need me to be honest and connected."
People need me to be connected to them more than they need me to be efficient for them. For a servant-minded person, this isn't easy to understand, but I'm confident God will continue to teach me in this area this year. Being present, and I meant truly present, says more than words could ever say. Like Mary chose the better thing -to connect with Jesus- while Martha focused on efficiency for Jesus, so true presence matters. I don't want to go through the motions of life as if my life wasn't just significantly impacted by the birth of our daughter: I want to embrace and adjust, refining my attention to presence to the right people found in my highest priorities and irreplaceable roles. I want to structure my priorities as God wants. I want to give the best of me to the people who matter the most.
Some practical, small steps I've taken so far to be more present?
Taking a Facebook hiatus. I want to choose to be present with someone fully and not partially because of social media. I want to model to people what I also want from people: priority presence over the connection a phone offers.
Leaving my phone in my bathroom overnight so I'm not scrolling on it, wasting time on it, going to bed by it, or waking up to it every day. This allows me to be more present with God and with my husband. It makes me get out of bed very early to go turn off my 2nd alarm which ensures I am either going to the gym or going to have quiet time. I also make a rule not to unlock it until after my quiet time.
Placing importance in people over chores when the two are competing. Family was visiting last week right after we bought a new Keurig. I was in the middle of setting it up when they walked in. My usual self would focus in on the Keurig after greeting them, putting it as the priority to tackle. But the Holy spirit gently reminded me of my endeavor to be more present..so I set it aside and sat on the floor with family, investing my presence in them.
I'm excited to see all God teaches me about presence in the upcoming year. Do you have a word?