Decade Reflections

Part of my looking forward and making New Year’s Resolutions involves looking backwards. This year, that backward look encompasses a decade – the 2010s.

In my looking back, I saw both a lot of pain and a lot of joy. I see growth that took place through many small steps added together, and I also see mistakes still waiting to be used as motivation for growth.

While I have regrets, I mostly have gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. In this, I realize once again the value in remembering.

“I remember days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the works of your hands.” (Psalm 143:5)

Isaiah takes God’s people through this process of remembering, but he doesn’t end with looking backward. Instead, he uses looking backward as a point of references for saying that God has bigger things in store.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This truth holds firm still for us today because God’s character never changes. He’s always outdoing himself. It is through this lens I now choose to eagerly anticipate the next decade – the 2020s.

New Year’s Resolutions

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

What Could Go Right?

You’ve probably heard some form of this quote in a movie, usually said with a twinkling eye:

“What could go wrong?”

After all, what would be the fun in a plot line that didn’t have adversity and where everything goes according to plan?

Unfortunately, we often get too fixated on what could go wrong in real life too. Some of us, whether because of personality, a tough upbringing, or being hurt one too many times, just seem to have an unquenching need to identify and prepare for all that could go wrong.

Too bad doing so is impossible. I’ve tried. You simply cannot plan for every contingency.

You can, however, wear yourself out and stress yourself to insanity by trying. With that also comes the added frustration of wasted time since most of what we think could happen never does. Yet, those few times where over-planning produced helpful results keeps you hanging on to planning for all that could go wrong.

What if you flipped the script and instead asked?

“What could go right?”

How would asking this instead change your outlook? Your approach to planning? What might you do and think differently? How might it make you feel? How would it change your expectation of people and events?

As for me, I’m purposing to ask, “What could go right?” more often. I hope it eventually becomes my default.

I’ll still plan, but I won’t let my focus be directed by what could go wrong. I’m determined to choose to consider what could go right instead.

Taking this idea one step further, I want to look back on events – even just normal days, whatever those are – and be grateful for all that went right. In other words, I want to break the habit of ruminating on how things could (should?) have gone.

Join me?

Transition in Change

Transition vs. Change

Though often used as synonyms, transition and change are not the same.

  • Change is situational.
  • Transition is psychological & requires “inner reorientation.”
  • Change is inevitable; transition is not.
  • We have to go through change.
  • We do not have to transition.

In other words, to quote William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

“Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

To further our understanding of the difference between change and transition, let’s look at a couple of examples from Scripture.

Example 1: The Israelites changed, but they didn’t transition. They wandered around the desert for 40 years because they refused to transition. They even expressed a desire to go back to captivity, to the way things were. (See Numbers 13 & 14)

What might this resistance to transition look like today?

  • Trying to control everyone and everything
  • Struggling with depression
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Hurting others
  • Feeling stuck

Example 2: The Apostle Paul changed AND transitioned. He also showed us that doing so is learned; it’s a process.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul went from being a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of the Gospel. Within his writings throughout the New Testament, we discover a man who not only changed because of an encounter with Christ but who also continually transitioned well from that point forward.

The process involves small steps taken over time that add up to make a big difference. In other words, it’s about living a life of making progress toward perfection. Transitioning within change is a required part of that process.

Refining & Pruning

God wants to both change & transition us. He is the author of this process.

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

When something is refined, it becomes a purified precious metal. When something is pruned, it produces a more plentiful crop. For us, this is a painful process but one necessary for growth, which comes only through transition.

A Transitioning Mindset

If you think you’re ready for change, you may be right. The real question is, are you ready to transition? No matter how ready I thought I was (e.g., empty nest), I was always wrong about what it would mean to transition and how ready I thought I was to do so.

What I’ve realized, though, is that if we we’re always ready and perfectly prepared for change, how would we learn trust God? We wouldn’t need the refining and pruning process where we learn contentment regardless of circumstances if we could prepare ourselves for growth on our own. In other words, the painful process of transitioning in change is the process required for growth.

We can, however, establish a transitioning mindset that at least minimizes our resistance to the work of transition God wants us to do in our lives. It leads us to a place of least resistance. We create a transitioning mindset when we take on the perspective of Job.

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Scripture expresses this same sentiment in other ways, the most well-known being Proverbs 16:9.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Healthy Change involves learning contentment and establishing our stability on Christ and all that he has done for us. This requires that we learn to transition (progress) as we are pruned and refined through all that life brings our way.

Vast & Unfailing

Vast

What first comes to mind when you think of the word vast? My first thoughts are of the ocean, the sky, and space.

Vast (adj.) = of very great area or extent; of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous; very great in number, quantity, amount, degree, intensity, etc.

When something is vast, it’s immeasurable; it can’t be contained.

“Your unfailing love is vast.” (Psalm 36:5)

While the ocean, the sky and space are vast beyond my comprehension, it’s truly mind-blowing to realize that God’s love is even more vast.

Unfailing

Then there’s the word before love: unfailing. Not only is His love vast, it never fails either.

Though the meaning of word unfailing seems obvious, I looked it up anyway and found more to it than I expected.

Unfailing (adj.) = not failing; not giving way; not falling short of expectation; completely dependable; inexhaustible; endless.

When I think of all the things in life that are failing, which is pretty much everything at some point, realizing that God isn’t is truly awe-inspiring. He never falls short of our expectations. In fact, he usually exceeds them.

Another way to say something is unfailing is to say that it never changes. While the ocean, the sky and space are certainly vast, they aren’t unfailing. They do change. In fact, I cannot think of anything that is unfailing and vast. Only God’s love.

“Your unfailing love is higher than the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Psalm 108:4)

Understanding God Through His Creation

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Ephesians 2:10)

God expresses himself through his handiwork, his creation. That includes both what we see in nature and ourselves as well. More personally, it means that everything you do and who you are potentially shows God’s handiwork and expresses what He is like to others.

“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

How does this change your view of yourself? Of what you do with your time?

My New 4th of July Perspective

Fireworks. Cookouts. Parades. Sarah’s birthday.

Without effort, these used to be my first thoughts when thinking about the 4th of July.

With purposeful thinking…

Independence Day 1776. The Declaration of Independence. Freedom.

Now, as my youngest son prepares to go into the Navy in just 2 weeks, my perspective is different.

Sacrifice. Freedom isn’t free.

I always knew these truths, but they have become more real to me. Amazing how your perspective can change with the transitions of life’s seasons.

Metanoia

In psychology, metanoia involves experiencing a psychotic breakdown and then subsequent, positive rebuilding and healing. My journey through depression was a metanoia. In fact, this blog – Struggle to Victory – aptly describes that journey.

Do you have a metanoia that’s now a part of your testimony? If you’re a Christian, the answer is “Yes!”

The Bible talks a lot about metanoia.

Matthew 3:8 – “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Matthew 3:11 – I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Mark 1:4 – John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke 5:32 – I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

2 Corinthians 7:9 – “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.”

Repentance is metanoia. It is a transformative change of heart that leads to life transformation.

Go ahead! Be stubborn!

Bad Stubborn

Most of the time, stubbornness is seen as bad. It seems self-serving, whether a front for pride or a display of arrogance.

Unwilling to change.
Can’t admit when wrong.
Refuse to see another way.

I’ve been stubborn to the point of hurting others. My stubbornness has also resulted in missed opportunity and delayed growth.

Maybe you can relate.

Good Stubborn

There are times when stubbornness is good. Though it’s still somewhat frustrating to others, it’s easier to understand and appreciate.

Refusal to give up.
Pushing through.
Making it to the end despite pain.

God tells Ezekiel to be stubborn in this way. More accurately, God makes Ezekiel stubborn.

“But see, I have made you hard and stubborn too – as tough as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as a rock. So don’t be afraid of them, or fear their sullen, angry looks, even though they are such rebels.” (Ezekiel 3:8-9, TLB)

In order for Ezekiel to overcome fear and say what God wanted him to say, Ezekiel needed to be stubborn. Before this stubbornness took effect, though, God had one requirement of Ezekiel.

“Then he added: “Son of dust, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first; listen to them carefully for yourself. Then, afterward, go to your people in exile, and whether or not they will listen, tell them: ‘This is what the Lord God says!’” (Ezekiel 3:10-111, TLB)

Godly Stubbornness

We can take some valuable lessons about stubbornness from this account.

  1. Be stubborn in fulfilling the purposes God sets before you.
  2. Fill yourself with God’s words to help keep you stubborn.
  3. Obey God’s words in your stubbornness.

Then, without fear, stubbornly pursue God’s will.

Stability Within Change

Changing Seasons

While the extremes vary, everyone experiences changing seasons no matter where they live. Even Hawaii changes seasons, though not an extreme difference and only between two different seasons (summer and winter).

If you think changing seasons are unchangeable events, think again. Climate change experts say that the timing of seasons is now changing.

The Earth’s seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds. This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say. (Timing of Seasons is Changing)

Yes, even the changing seasons are becoming more unpredictable, though if you live in a place like I do (Michigan) that has always been the case.

Our season changes are extreme, and you simply love or hate it. I’ve actually heard of people missing the extreme changes after moving to a place with less seasonal change. Also, every time we enter a new season, someone (often a person who has lived in the area for many years) expresses surprise over it happening.

If you live in an area of extreme seasonal changes, you have to admit to the beauty of every season. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to see when it’s hot and humid or rainy or bitter cold or there’s a foot of snow on the ground or you experience rain, fog, snow and cold with a 40-degree temperature drop all in one day.

Change – unexpected or not – keeps life interesting.

Life’s Seasons

Our lives have seasons too, some expected and some not. Some people embrace the change, some resist; most do both, and all are at times surprised when change takes place.

Staunchly resisting change is futile as well as unhealthy. We all know this both by observation and experience, but it doesn’t stop us from stubbornly resisting change at times.

Why do we sometimes resist the changing of life’s seasons and other times embrace them? Why do we in our hearts often wish things wouldn’t change?

The answers to these questions are unique to every person. What we all have in common, though, is the need for stability within change.

Stability Within Change

Stability within change is essential for thriving as the seasons inevitably change in our lives. For Christians, this means focusing on God who does not change.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 )

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

As the seasons of life morph in both expected and unexpected ways, I am learning to lean heavily on Jesus. The hope he gives keeps me stable amidst the changes of the many extremes in my life.

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:19