Your new one main thing—kindness

I hope this post finds your inbox. Subscribers haven’t received notifications for the last two weeks, but I think I have it fixed.

Advent is over. I have a pleasant memory making an advent-wreath as a child. Other than that, it’s never been part of my tradition. But I might change this because I grow fonder of the practice each year. The contemplation of preparing for God’s arrival on earth is like singing the Songs of Ascent during the trek to Jerusalem. It prepares a pilgrim for the encounter.

And it seems like every time a human in the Bible has an unexpected encounter with heaven, the angelic being needs to say “Fear Not,” and tell them to stand back up. I want to be prepared to meet God.

For the first part of the month, I’m more “prepared” for the end of the year (packing it up) than December 25. But as we skid past the freezing celebrations, I relish time with my husband, family and friends. The all-encompassing focus turns the calendar and the new year arrives… whether you are ready or not.

Change

Now, January 1, I like. The hopefulness of a clean slate and setting goals for change. The freshness of packing away decorations and vacuuming every trace of glitter. I like to empty jars and throw them away, toss the last piece of stale candy or bread. Out with the old! I just have to be careful with my tossing rampage—it isn’t something my family wanted to keep.

I appreciate change, but even change you desire and initiate can unsettle—like my husband’s impending job change. At the beginning of the year, the summer, and the fall, I try to take stock of what things are working and what needs to be eliminated. Will I take another class, should I change my devotions to a different time or resource, what can I quit or allow myself to let go? One of my prayer partners has a fun practice of creating a new challenge for herself each month. Some things get incorporated into her life, but the time limit prevents boredom for the things that don’t work. I usually last about 10 days if I join her.

One summer I read Your Best Year Ever and it was really helpful to understand holistic goal-setting, not just physical health—but spiritual, relational, vocational, etc. (Often when things are going haywire, it’s pervasive. It hits you in every area. And it’s similar when pursuing intentional health.) I also learned from the book to designate small measurable steps to achieve those bigger goals. Rather than a “swing and a miss” on day five, you spend months incrementally working toward the end goal. Setbacks are not time to quit when you do it this way. I recommend the book for learning about specific, measurable, achievable goals instead of arbitrary wishes, prone to failure.

It’s so easy to plan sobriety with a drink in your hand and the new skinny-you with a full belly. Which describes the entire month of December, and why everyone is totally going to start a diet soon.

This is the fun week of the year, where you get to plan how great things will be next year, but haven’t needed to blame the failure on yourself or others yet.

Some people refuse to make resolutions. I appreciate that. The first time someone lies to you, it’s painful. But after a while, you’re no longer surprised. You actually expect it. The more you lie to yourself, the easier it gets as well. You reinforce a path to defeat if you consistently fail to follow through. I don’t like making too lofty of goals; failing allows me to give up easier the next time.

Oh, but I could quit/start if I really wanted to

One thing I learned years ago when I ran half marathons with fiftytwofour.org was that “we are capable of so much more than we think.” The creator of the fundraiser made that statement in a video promo, and I wanted it to be true so much that I joined.

You are capable of more than you know! But—only of one main thing at a time. That’s because several things you already have are non-negotiable. A job, being a parent, or a spouse all take up space… on top of those, you can probably only add a hobby or an eating plan. Something difficult needs to become your primary focus for a season. Later, it could become a part of your life, but when it’s new, it needs more attention.

I am a morning person, but there can only be one first-thing. Devotions? Exercise? Creative writing? Sometimes it needs to be 30 more minutes of sleep.

And if you’re adding something really big, you might need to eliminate something else. The summers I trained to run, I didn’t garden.

There are too many unforeseen variables. Just because the year is new doesn’t mean the SAD goes away or the irritations you smothered in frosting and tinsel will resolve in the extra minute of daylight. And if you’ve been eating every gram of sugar you’ve seen for two weeks—your withdraw January 1 will be more violent than if you just started in February.

This sounds like the opposite of your typical New Year’s motivational speech: “Don’t reach too high… allow yourself to redirect.” But the point is that it isn’t always all your fault when things don’t pan out the way you envision. Be kind to yourself.

Someone I love recently gave me advice to make a list of accomplished tasks, instead of to-do items. I see this as a way to be kind when you talk to yourself. There are so many things that might help a person when everything is haywire (regular sleep, bible reading, and diet changes) but it if you tell them that’s what they need to do, you have shown them one more place they are failing. The same goes for you. So don’t abuse yourself next week with shame.

We are each a work in progress and God is faithful to complete what he started in us. It just might not be to elevate your figure and your wallet to glorious human standards. He has higher goals—completing the ongoing work inside.

Pick one thing

And if every year you fail at something, stop practicing that. The shame of it could be preventing you from succeeding. Set a different goal this year, and practice it through the setbacks—while being kind to yourself.

Please share your heart. We learn from each other.