I really don’t like making New Year’s resolutions because, for the most part, they’re a reminder of things I’m not going to accomplish, rather than things that I’m going to get to check off a “to do” list. I’m a notorious list maker and there was a time when I could manage my lists pretty well and expect to have them completed by the end of the week. And then came the kids. And a bigger house. And volunteer opportunities at church. And chickens. (I’m amazed at how much time I spend online learning about poultry.) And the lists slowly went from being helpful tools to becoming millstones around my neck. I can’t remember the last time I finished a list, but I can show you the worry lines across my forehead that those lists have caused. So I’m not making any resolutions this year, or for the foreseeable future.
Now revelations, that’s another story. I love revelations. Whereas resolutions have the power to crush me, revelations have the power to lighten my load and unburden my mind. They untangle me from the places where I’ve become bound to bad habits or futile thinking. I had a revelation this summer as I was exiting a McDonald’s drive through. Someone had painted a message on a stop sign and it changed my whole day. Stop Trying. I thought about that command for a minute and realized that trying was a big part of the reason I wasn’t accomplishing anything. There’s a streak of carpe diem in my personality and I’m always wanting to experience as much as possible because as the old song says, “I will never pass this way again.” That streak leads me to sample a whole lot of choices, but never lets me sit down to enjoy the meal. Perhaps the sign should read, “Stop trying everything.” Pick a few projects to tackle rather than a project of the week. Choose the activities that are a natural match for the kids rather than a dozen different ones that I’ve heard other moms talking about. Learn to cook a terrific roast beef instead of several new recipes each month. It’s OK to decide to let some good, creative, lovely ideas go by the wayside. This is one revelation about trying that I’m excited to see unfold in the New Year.
The other bit of wisdom I discerned from the “stop trying” sign is about our design. A quick look back at the Garden of Eden will show that we were never made to be furious creators and accomplishers. The garden was completed while Adam was yet dust and it was already in operation before he was given the task of caring for it. It wasn’t until the fall that man knew toil and sweat. Time and again we see that effort and frustrated work is paired with a falling away from grace, from God’s providence. Being raised in a heavy work-ethic culture doesn’t help us in understanding our natural design either. But Scripture never said that God and man’s wisdom aligned; in fact, it urges us to grasp that the opposite is true. That’s why Jesus commended Mary for resting while her sister anxiously played hostess. And what of His great promise in Matthew 6, “Seek first the kingdom and (my) righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”? We’ve lost our ability to understand how God brings the food to the table, clothes to the closets and peace to our hearts. He knows about homework and birthday parties and vet appointments and He cares about them all. But His flow of supply reaches us as we heed the stop sign and focus on a very few tasks instead.
Seek the kingdom. Hunger for the things of God…His peace and joy and righteousness. Make that the first priority of our day. And that means opening the Word and our hearts to conversations of prayer with Him. Learn to do that first thing in the morning and see what an amazing difference it causes in how the day unfolds. And what of righteousness? Seeking that means learning to see that Jesus has given us his right-standing with the Father. Any self-effort to please God on our parts is actually offensive to Him as it tries to supplant what His son accomplished at the cross. Pastor Prince explains it in more depth here. And I wrote a little about the worry we endure when we slip out of this mindset and back into our own strength and wisdom here. As for my rabid list-making, I’m coming to see that it’s just another form of self-effort, a way of trying to control the aspects of life that I want to see provided into our home…a clean house, a neatly organized basement, a birthday party to remember. But by the end of most weeks, my hopes are unrealized and I’ve sacrificed the blessings of peace, joy or comfortable lounging in my gifted robes of righteousness as I’ve sought after the wrong to-do list.
I floated a little trial balloon in early December and decided to set aside my cleaning list for the month. It was scary to think of going into the busiest season of the year without a clear picture of what I needed to accomplish each day. I determined to tackle the most needy chores as I had time, but attach no accomplishment or guilt to their doing or undoing. Yes, the toilets didn’t sparkle. The carpets were covered in cat hair and sundry bits of lint. The laundry piles leaned like Pisa throughout the bedrooms. But without a list growling at me each morning, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it had the month before. I didn’t feel the crush of self-effort but I did feel a strange little flutter called peace. Instead of guilt about slacking as a stay at home mom, my family saw Mom enjoying the mess of cookie baking. And it was comforting to lean hard on Jesus when I did feel panicked about the clutter because I had been spending time focused on His perfect love instead of achieving my perfect house.
So no resolutions this year. They point me in the wrong direction. But lots of seeking to expand on the revelation found at the corner of the McDonald’s parking lot. Those two little words are all the compass I need. If you’re looking for a shift in focus, too, here are some great verses to start with.
Psalm 23, especially the opening verses
Happiest New Year yet and all God’s abundant supply to you and your family for 2013!