I left off with the word “pause” as my one-word mini-resolution for the new year. One month after the birth of our son, I think I’m ready to pick up that thread again with my reflections on how I’d like to spend 2018.
A big part of it, in fact, has to do with spending money. As in, I want to try not to.
I’ve been inspired, as I mentioned before, by an interview in The Sun and a book by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. He writes about downward mobility, and investing in relationships with one another, particularly the marginalized in culture and society. He suggests that Jesus’s life showed us that real happiness comes from experiencing God’s kingdom in our daily lives, where it is hidden in plain sight, when we are truly living in community with one another and sharing resources.
Downward mobility is just about the exact opposite of everything I’ve been taught growing up in the U.S. I wouldn’t say that I was raised to believe the purpose of life is to make a lot of money and have nice things. And yet that’s the implicit message in a consumption-centered culture. Thinking about God’s kingdom in terms of economics is exciting because it begins to answer this anxiety I’ve had for a long time about the tension between what I do and say in church and how I behave the rest of the week. How can I follow Christ and ignore someone who asks me for money on the roadside? What does it mean to be a Christian driving a brand new car?
Reading God’s Economy shook me up, the way the Gospel does when we are ready to hear it or see it with new eyes. (Not that his book is the bible, of course, but that it is basically telling us the same things Jesus tells us, through personal stories and from a modern perspective.) I read it with a sinking feeling in my stomach, the sense that I was at the beginning of a much larger conversation I need to have with God about material wealth and the state of my heart. My friends in more Evangelical circles would say I felt “convicted.” I saw myself for the first time in Jesus’s parable about the rich man.
I’ve been listening to the Upside Down podcast Tribe and joined an accountability group for A Year of Enough (I’m not really sure where this idea originated but it’s not terribly complicated, just a year of not spending money on extra stuff). I think this idea of enough already is what was truly calling me in the Seven challenge, and what has troubled me since my early twenties when it comes to possessions. This fine edge between perfectionism and minimalism, and the simplicity of bare faith. Being motivated by a heart that longs for freedom not from stuff, but from clutter in my heart.
Okay, but what does that actually mean?
Maybe it means I’m kind of done with resolutions, or that I think the only resolution I want to have each year is to grow closer to God. This year I want to explore doing that through simple habits of prayer, through loving my children and my husband, and showing up to help and be helped by my community– from my closest friends and neighbors all the way to perfect strangers. I get that “help” is a loaded term. People in privilege like me who want to do good can get into the habit of seeing others as “less than” simply because they “have” less. I want to challenge that assumption in myself this year. I know that there is so much I need to learn about true love and true fulfillment, from people in all parts of my community.
So maybe “pause” is more like a prayer this year than an intention. Lord, help me to pause.
And because prayer is my hands open to receive from God as she sees fit to give, let me not be too rigid and bullet-pointed about what that’s going to look like. Let me say maybe. Maybe pause will mean:
Little bits/ habits of prayer. “Be still and know that I am God.” Lord help me practice some of the super simple, tired-mom friendly devotional practices Catherine McNiel writes about in Long Days of Small Things.
Not buying things. Lord, help me pause before making a purchase and remember that you are at the center of this experiment, and the whole point of it. Spending only on consumable necessities, avoiding Amazon and Target, buying from local business people and companies with a commitment to ethical production practices.
Compassionate parenting. Lord help me remember that Lyle and I are a team, and our children are small humans who deserve our respect. Help me pause to connect first with Sky, instead of yelling or “disciplining” when she’s too upset to learn anything.
Keeping things simple. Not adding too much to the calendar. Not taking on more commitments. Not bringing more stuff into the house.
Being present. Truly listening and practicing presence with people in conversation. Not rushing around, high on the “drug of efficiency,” as Shauna Niequist writes in Present over Perfect. I have such a tendency to want to cross off my to-do list, scrub the counter instead of sit with Sky as she eats her snack, check my email or bank balance while I nurse Robin. Enough of that. Lord, let me just be with people this year.
Sigh. This post is kind of a brain dump. There’s so much I want to write and think about here, and my mind feels like my desk looks. A mess of sticky notes with passages copied from the reading I’ve been doing while nursing Robin. Piles of paid bills to file and unpaid bills to pay alongside recipes for chocolate beet muffins and a DVD on Dunstan baby language. The material I need to cut out for toddler hand towels at Sky’s preschool. A plate smeared with peanut butter from a hasty snack while Lyle, Sky, and (somehow, miraculously) the baby were napping.
Just trying to coax some of these ideas into some kind of coherent shape.
This is why the one-word intention is right for me, right now. It gives me a kind of shorthand for all the ideas percolating, like a flashlight through the brain fog. A way to set it all down so I can let God do the work in me.
It’s not going to be perfect, and the desire to make it perfect is probably going to get in the way sometimes and distract me from the real purpose. But I’m tired of not doing something because I can’t do it perfectly, of feeling like I need to wait until I know what I’m talking about before I start writing it down. I want to just begin, taking baby steps, going slowly, learning and messing up and starting again, because I’m in it for the long haul.
In the name of not being perfect, then, here’s a more traditional list of goals, the old bucket list style of resolutions I’m used to. This style hasn’t gotten me far in the past. I mean, I may have crossed things off a list, but I definitely found myself about as close to fulfillment at the end of the year as I was in the beginning. Maybe I’ll think of them more as projects, and remember that if I don’t do them or they turn out differently than I expected, they’re not what’s going to bring me real satisfaction anyway.
But I’m excited about:
- Dipping my toes into homeschooling Sky
- A summer of fun camping trips and family hikes
- Finding a great babysitter for both kids
- Returning to work with grant writing in spring
- Publishing some essays and poems
- Planting a “rainbow garden” with Sky
- Going on 12 dates with Lyle
- Meals with my IF table women
- Finding new ways to journal
Maybe I’ll draw from this list for some blog posts in the future.
Meanwhile, talk to me about all of this. Help me make some sense of these scattered thoughts if you can. Or tell me about your own resolutions/intentions/prayers for the year. It’s almost the end of February so the pressure’s off!