Most of us have a few bad annoying habits if we asked those closest to us. Talking with food in your mouth? Having a loud group conversation on your speaker phone in a public place? Rude interrupting during conversations? Not a focused good listener? I will not divulge mine at this point but just know we all have them.
But what about good productive habits? Have you built any virtuous habits that have turned into healthy traditions?
For my entire adult life, I have practiced a discipline that has been extremely helpful. I started this activity when I was in college and I haven’t missed a year since (which adds up to a big number these days). What is the practice? Sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I find a quiet space in my otherwise demanding and noisy world to do a bit of reflection. I look over my shoulder at the year winding down and then look ahead at the year fast approaching.
This reflective practice has been one of the best habits of my life. In the words of Harvard Business School, reflection is the art of articulating and codifying learning. For me, reflection has helped me stay clear-headed and honest. It keeps me vulnerable yet rooted. It has channeled some confused emotion and rowdy energy. And it bridges things I need to carry with me into the New Year while allowing me to put to bed things that need to be ignored or deleted from the past.
Take these shaping thoughts I walked away with after one recent year-end reflection time:
Life always comes back to relationships.
Your life is only as rich as your relationships. Do you believe that? The Ecclesiastes writer said it was sad and senseless to do life alone (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12). We need community and the older I get, the more real that concept rings true. How about you?
- Say thanks to the individuals that helped make 2021 a remarkable year for you. Give them a call. Shoot them a text. Write them a note. Take them to lunch. Not one of us made it to December living and working alone without help.
- Get serious about community in 2022. Structure your life and feed resources to healthy relationships in 2022. Who are the people that you need to spend time with for your sake? Who are the people that you should spend time with for their sake? Do you need to set any relational boundaries? Would others say you are a great friend?
There is an element of mystery in life.
We are constantly told that life is a calculation to figure out or a performance completely dependent on our practice, energy and grit. If we get up early enough, work hard enough, and don’t make any mistakes, then we can control everything. Oh yeah, and things will turn out in our favor. In short –we will win.
Sure there is some truth to this, but my understanding of this topic has dramatically changed over the years. I now try and practice what I call “a relaxed view of God’s sovereignty” on a daily basis.
Jesus told a story where two farmers are both growing a crop. One obsesses over his crop and stays up all night waiting for the morning to come. He is obviously the high achiever. The other goes to sleep and lets nature (God) do its thing. He would be the more relaxed, perhaps even passive achiever.
Put simply, growth and success (even in the kingdom of God) has more mystery to it than we are often comfortable with.
What difference does that make?
- It means we need to loosen up with our expectations on others, ourselves and life itself.
- It means we should complain less and have more hope.
- It means we work steady and hard instead of frantically.
- It means we learn from our mistakes instead of fearing them.
- It means we distinguish between our role and God’s in life.
Your theology frames your life and work.
What is a theology? It’s simply our set of beliefs about God and His interaction with the world. C.S. Lewis wrote that theology is like a map. Whether you admit it or not, you walk through life as if a map exists. You assume there are landmarks, roadblocks, paths, and destinations. In other words, we all have a theology.
And it is your theology that answers the most profound questions in life: Who am I? (identity). Where did I come from? (origin). Why am I here?(purpose). Where am I going? (eternity). Show me your life and I can show you your theology. Tell me your theology and I can describe your life.
Your theology anchors your decisions during times of testing. Done well, it can give you motivation to keep going against a head wind or tether you down amidst the swirling crosswinds of crisis and culture.
Reflect on your theology. How deep, rooted and sustainable is it?
Faith, Hope, and Love
Some words are simply stronger than other words.
My theology says that these words—Faith, Hope, and Love—need to be weight-bearing words in my life. How I define and discover Faith, Hope, and Love is at the core of a satisfied flourishing life.
Faith first in God and second in ourselves. The order is important. God gives and I steward and develop. God controls and designs and I steward and develop. Get the pattern and sequence? Yes, I need to have confidence and faith in others and myself but I must have a bedrock conviction in God’s willingness and ability to manage His world and my part in it.
Hope that tomorrow can be better than yesterday. I don’t know how your year has been, but it’s been a busy full year for me. And busy, full hard years can test our hope. How’s your hope going into 2022?
Love. I am in a never-ending lab with the word love. Somedays I think I get it and other days I feel like I need a remedial learning tutor. Some days I clearly feel the extravagant love God expresses toward me. Other days, I feel alone and unsure. Some days I seem full of love for others; even those who annoy me. Other days I act like a pagan, to be completely honest. Or at least a childish 3 – year old.
So are you adequately armed with faith, love and hope for the coming year?
I would encourage you to do some reflection like this. Over the years, I have used all sorts of formats and instruments to tease out insights and face hard realities. Some years my reflection time was very prayerful; some years it was more intellectual and cognitive. Other years it was very emotional and cathartic. For me the practice was the priority, not the same format and venue.
Pull out your calendar—paper or digital. Give yourself the gift of reflection. Book it. Keep it. Invest into your soul. Lift above the daily grind and work on your life not just in your life. You’ll be glad you did.