Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes, and General Mental Mayhem

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A Friend’s Take on the New Year: March 1 isn’t too late.

I just read this fantastic post by one of my very best friends, Daron. He’s been so influential on my life the last decade or so, and is the one who introduced me to my Word for the Year thinking.

Here’s the way he explains our tradition (much better than I):

I was listening to a podcast once about Jewish Holidays. It struck me that the Jewish faith purposely incorporates a time meant for reflection. I would not consider myself a Jewish scholar, but the rabbi on the podcast explained that three very important holidays, distinguished as “high holidays”, stood out from the rest. The rabbi described the Jewish concept of time like this. Imagine a spiraling river flowing upward around and around and around. Each time it completes a circular curve flowing just above the last it can be thought of as a year in the passage of time as we know it (the Jewish calendar is a little different from the western calendar, but roughly the same amount of time passes). The river moves forward ever winding and surging. Although the forward direction is always the same it is not linear, it does not leave its latest path in the past. It moves back, swirling just above where it just flowed. Now imagine three brilliant beams of light shooting up from below soaring up to the heavens as far as the eye can see. These beams of light touch the flowing, spiraling river at the same point in every rotation. These beams of light are the three high holidays. They bring together the past, present, and future. Despite the current location of the river, the beam of light is the same and brings tradition, connection, and stability every time it touches the river of time.

Two high holidays in particular caught my attention. These were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year’s Day, and ironically the day of remembrance. It can be found in Leviticus 23:24-25. It is the day Jews look back not just over the year but also to the beginning of creation and to Adam to reflect. They take in how they measure up to the creation that they were intended to be and reflect of the flow of the river to this point, specifically to their personal point on the river. Most importantly putting creation into perspective with the concept of God‘s sovereignty. I am told that one of the practices of this holiday is to walk along a river bank and empty your pockets into the river (for the environmentalist out there, don’t you fret. The practice calls for filling your pocket with bread before hand). Symbolically this is the act of “casting off” sins. So, during this holiday you are taking stock in where you have come and where you have deviated from the path of God and from creation.

The next holiday, Yom Kippur, is 9 days later. It is the Day of Atonement. So, having taken stock of your life, your community, and your origins during Rosh Hashanah you recognize where you have fallen short and it is on this day of Yom Kippur you work to right your path. In Old Testament it was on this day that the “High Priest made an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. This act of atonement brought reconciliation between the people and God.” It can be found in Leviticus 16:8-34; 23:27-32. It is traditionally when Jews attempt to make amends to those they have wronged. It is a day of fasting and repenting of sins. In some respects it is a day to align and calibrate oneself with God for the coming wind in the flowing river. It is a day to start fresh and in step with the purpose for which you were created in the first place. A very cool holiday, I must say.

So after wading the deep waters of the concepts of time, atonement, and alignment I began to ponder. What would my life look like if I were standing at the end of the year that has yet to happen? How would my perspective on helplessness and the ziggy, zaggy nature of my life change? What would I do differently? What would I have done differently? As I found myself at the end of each year and imagined being there before it began I started to recognize patterns. Each year did flow into the next. I was just so focused on what was unfolding in front of me that I could not take in the perspective that God was sovereign and because I was aligned with him I was never helpless.

So, I set out to “live atoned.” There is a place where this idea is contemplated everyday. In the smoke filled rooms crowded with those who know a far heavier burden of the zigging, zagging peril of losing your way from creation a prayer is recited. This prayer acts as a life vest in the raging river of life for those caught in the grip of addiction. It is called the serenity prayer. “GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen. – Reinhold Neibuhr, 1926”

This is a lot easier said than done. How do I balance the tensions of being fully present in my life while fully open to the desire of God for my life? I stand on the edge of the current year and ask, “Who am I with my current strengths and weaknesses, and in my current circumstances?” I do a mini Rosh Hashanah. I then take an imaginary motorboat to the end of the bend in the river and I ask, “Given who and where I was, with those strengths and weaknesses and in those circumstances at the beginning of this year, what will I say the year was about? What will I have been involved in? How will I have invested my time and energy? What would have been wise to think about and to do?” Then I race against the current back to the present for a mini Yom Kippur, a day of atonement. I calibrate with God, and live my life in a way for God to use me. I don’t force my desired path. I don’t make plans that cannot be broken. I simply do the things that I can do to make a way for God to use me and do the things only He can do. There are times God will still zig and zag, but I find that I do not feel as blind sighted. I find that aligning my day-to-day life brings the stability of a life connected to all He has done before me and all He will do once I am gone. I have the peace of a connected story.

To make this tangible I choose a theme word for the year. It is a word that describes the year to come. I am open for it to change (and it has), but it is a word that gives the year a sense of course. I also choose a scripture that embodies this word. It is often something that has leapt out to me as I read and attempted to align with God. It is not something that I try to shape for my own purposes or needs, but one that makes sense. It acts as a word of encouragement from God. Finally I choose a theme song for the year. Why a theme song? Well, because it is cool. Seriously, wouldn’t life just be so much better if you had theme music like a movie or your favorite television show? I mean seriously, how much better would driving to work be if the theme song from Magnum PI was playing in the background? There is a secondary reason for the theme song. It is a very effective antidote to the inevitable wane in momentum (think Rocky as he nears the top of the seemingly insurmountable series of steps to the tune of Eye of the Tiger).

And that’s a much more developed explanation than I gave. Great, now that he’s got it written down I can read this every year to get ready for the New Year! Thanks, Daron!


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All The World’s A Stage

Been talking to a lot of people lately who are “waiting” or in “holding patterns” or “anxious” in their lives. Basically, folks looking for what’s next. I feel very much the same way…most of the time.

However, I have to continually remind myself that no matter what stage I’m in, there is always one behind me and one ahead of me. We never leave stages. They are inherently part of life, yet we always feel pressure (by ourselves or others) to get to the next one. Why is this? Maybe this is why patience is a virtue.

Now I can understand the pressure to move forward because I’m a driven sort of person. Standing still can often feel like moving backwards. I’d rather go out of my way two hours in traffic than sit still. I just want to be moving. But I can also rush into things, move ahead before I am probably ready. In the traffic scenario, which is actually the waste? What is being wasted? Time? Gas? Patience? And coming from a theater background, it seems I would love to always have a stage. I mean, I’ve got the costumes, for goodness sake. Sadly, even I grow tired of them. Stages can be no fun if you don’t know your lines.

One particular stage I’ve been in for about two years now. I didn’t see it coming and I am pretty cloudy about the end date as well. Ain’t that just the way? However, if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is plenty to do while waiting. I’ve definitely been in stages where I just wasted time. I was angry or bitter or bored or something. And I saw the stage as a waste of my time, so my sharp logic just told me to stare right back and waste away with it. That’ll teach it! No PhD here, folks. But I’m happy to say that as I’ve matured, I’ve been better at utilizing the waiting time. I am more aware of the benefits of the stage, using them as preparation rather than stagnation. After all, what a shame it would be to grow to the next stage having learned nothing from the current one. That’s the real waste. And it probably means I won’t get all I can from the next one either. I’m setting up a negative chain reaction.

Recently, I started going through the workbook Experiencing God again. (TANGENT: This Bible study changed my life the first time I did it a couple years ago, and it’s currently doing it again. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it if you’d like to grow and mature in your relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.) Last night’s lesson was entitled “God Speaks with a Purpose.” In it, Henry Blackaby notes, “God develops character to match the assignment. Do not assume, however, that the moment God calls you, you are prepared for the assignment. Many of us don’t want to give attention to the development of our character; we just want God to give us a big assignment. But if you are not willing to be faithful in a little, God will not give you larger assignments.” Ok, ouch Blackaby, now it’s just getting personal! Guilty as charged, more often than I care to admit.

As I’ve gone through the workbook, though, the action step I come away with over and over again in relation to this stage is “wait and listen.” Frustrating still, because I’m a doer. I’m good at getting things done. But if my desire is to do God’s Will, I guess I’ll have to wait and listen. And that is my desire. So I’m trying my best to be an active listener. God isn’t calling me to sit and do nothing. I need to look around and see how He is working on my character in this stage. I am trying my hardest to take the small assignments and be faithful in them. Sure, like everyone, I want the big assignments. I pray repeatedly, though, that that desire is not for my own glory, but His. And I want to play my part in His story. I want the assignments He wants for me. I don’t want to waste time and miss out. Sometimes it’s those small assignments that actually stay with me the longest, affect me the most or offer a shared experience with someone close. I really do believe, just as there are no small parts in theater, there are no small assignments in God’s Kingdom. I mean, I still get to play a role in the Creator of the Universe’s story! How could there be a small assignment there? I’m a part of the plan of salvation, the ministry of reconciliation!

Blackaby also pointed out not to assume that the moment you are called, you will be prepared. Therefore, the current (and next) stage requires active listening as well. In fact, it may very well be this preparation and growth that not only elevates you to the next stage, but makes you crave it. And I think this is an encouraging thought. It would then mean that waiting is directly correlative to advancement. And what could be wasteful about that? Ironic. Counter-intuitive. Cool. That’s a stage I can play on. That’s a stage I can really live in, and love living in.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my waiting. It’s a busy time for me, and I’m sure you understand. (Let me know how yours goes, too.)