Doing and Being

Do you want to know the secret to a good New Year’s resolution?

It has to be observable and measurable.

Take it from a resolution veteran:  “I’m going to work out more” doesn’t cut it.  You need to say that you are going to work out this many times a week, at this place, and going to do these exercises.  And then you need to have a little chart or a space in your planner where you check off your workouts.

I’ve learned all this from experience.  Here are some of my past resolutions that worked:

Run 150 times this year, and at least 12 times each month.

Do crunches three times a week.

Read through the entire Bible, using x daily Bible plan.

The idea behind all this objective doing is the hope that, if you do something long enough, you’ll be something.  I didn’t resolve to exercise out of my love for bodily movement; I did it so that I would be in shape.  (Is this too obvious?  Bear with me; I’m going somewhere with it.)  I want to do my Bible reading so that I will be closer to God.

In 2010, I went for broke in the “doing” department.  Not only did I want to read the Bible through, I wanted to blog my responses.  It took about an hour each day, because even though I am a fast reader, my blogs were generally not short.  However, since this goal was public, my pride propelled me to follow through with it.  And so I did.  Every day, for 365 days, a blog post went up.  A couple of times throughout the year, I traveled to a place where I wouldn’t have internet access, so I wrote my blogs ahead of time and scheduled them to post.  I only got really sick once (a blasted stomach virus during a youth trip), but I still posted while my head was spinning and my stomach was churning.

That was the year of the earthquake in Haiti, and I decided to fast and pray about that.  Fueled by the experience, I instituted a personal weekly fast for much of that spring (I realize that I’m not supposed to tell you that, and that I’m probably cashing in my reward, but I believe that the bigger point warrants it).

The bottom line, is that I did spiritual disciplines that year.  I did them.  If doing something for 14, or 21, days is supposed to make it a lifelong habit, then what is doing something for 365 days?  I figured I had done everything in my power to force regular Bible reading into my life.  And so, in 2011, I wanted more.  I didn’t want to be the person who simply did her Bible reading, who clawed her way through it, through rain or shine, come hell or high water.  Instead, I wanted to be the person who thirsted for God, who spent time with Him out of pure desire and need, not because she had a checklist to complete.

And so that was my central resolution in 2011:  to thirst for God.

You may notice that, according to my rules, that resolution stinks.  It’s not objective; it’s not measurable.  In fact, as I found in 2010, it’s not even possible to do myself.  If it were possible, I would have achieved it in 2010, but in January of 2011, I found myself adrift without my Bible reading scheme, and able to go a week without reading!  Some good that whole year did!

My resolution, I realized was really a request.  It was a request for God to transform me, to make me thirst for Him.  All I could do was to keep asking.

The number of entries in my prayer journal is a reliable indicator of the number of days I spent purposeful time with God.  When I look in it for 2011, I see the following:  January was mediocre.  February was spotty.  March was pretty bleak.  April was looking to be the worst month so far…until the 27th.  From April 27 to June 1, I didn’t miss a single day.  And after that, I was very steady until the end of the year.  What’s more, my entries went from choppy lists to passionate paragraphs, where I poured out my heart to God.

I did not do that.

I tried just as hard from January to April as I did from the end of April on.  And my trying got me nowhere.  Finally, God just answered me.  He answered me through one friend, who gave me a great idea on reading through the New Testament…at the same time that another friend started a wonderful study on grace for the women of our church…at the same time that I was reading an amazing book that had sat, unread, on my shelf for over ten years.  The confluence of these factors struck the match in my soul.  And it has kept burning until now, well past the end of my New Testament reading, past the end of the grace study, past the end of the book.  Through this experience, I have seen the glory of God in the land of the living.  I have seen how He can transform my soul to make me be the person I want to be, apart from simply doing the things I want to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I completely affirm the value of disciplines.  But every good discussion of spiritual discipline (and I’ve read a few) will emphasize that it is not the disciplines themselves that bring you to God, but it is God’s Spirit working within you.

And so this year, my “New Year’s resolution” is simply another request for God.  Make no mistake, I do have a few “measurable” ones, centering around justice and hospitality, but my “big” one is completely in God’s court:

I want to live a life of love.

Over the past six months, I have had recurring thoughts about the “weapons of this world.”  In 2 Corinthians 10:4, Paul tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”  That verse has really taken root in my imagination, and I have mulled it over often.  What weapons do we fight with?  What has the divine power to demolish strongholds?  I have come to believe that the only “weapon” that fits that description is love.  Only love can transform a person’s soul.  Everything else amounts to coercion.

This idea has interesting ramifications in the area of international conflict, and I do admit an almost unhealthy interest in the debate between pacifism and just war theory.  But the reality is, I never have been, nor ever will be, a soldier, so there’s a degree to which that debate is irrelevant to my life.  But…that doesn’t mean I don’t use the weapons of the world.  How many times in relationships am I tempted to fight fire with fire?  How many times do I use the verbal violence of harsh words in order to force my kids, or others, into line?  The weapons of this world, I have come to theorize, are the things that try to force external behaviors in an attempt to control others.  Harsh words, yelling, biting remarks, passive-aggressiveness, the silent treatment:  these are all weapons of the world.

This year, I want to lay my weapons down.

As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher (whether college or Sunday school), I want to use love as my only weapon.

Maybe that’s impossible.  Maybe it’s stupid.  Maybe it’s based on a misinterpretation of Scripture.  I really don’t know.

But I want to find out.

One thing I know is that I can not live a life of love on my own.  I get irritable; I get frustrated; I am insufferable when I’m tired or sick.  I’m horrible at multi-tasking and thus, resent interruptions of my work.  I get easily stressed and am snappy as a result.  I have so many flaws that would prevent love from flowing out of me, and I have a handy arsenal of verbal weapons, ever ready at my disposal.  To instead choose peace and love every time I’m tempted to reach for a verbal spear will require nothing short of divine intervention.

But I want to live a life of love, as God’s dearly loved child, because I want to be a follower of Christ  And I want to be a full, practicing citizen in the kingdom of God.  And I want to be a living sacrifice, bringing glory to God.  I want to be a vessel through which His Spirit flows.

I want to be all those things, and without His Spirit actively accomplishing His purposes in me, there is no amount of discipline on my part that can achieve those goals.  In that way, my New Year’s resolution is really a prayer of helplessness.  Instead of relying on a checklist to make me into the person I want to be, I’m throwing all my hope behind the Creator Himself.

May He do great things in 2012 for all of us.  May He transform us all into the people we were designed to be.

What do you want to do this year?  Or, more importantly, who do you want to be this life?

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Boy, do I know what you’re saying. And yet, I find that my disciplines put me in a position to be able to recognize and receive the stuff I have nothing to do with. I’m reminded of the old saying about “quality time” with family–you cannot schedule quality time, but quality time is more likely to show up when you do schedule quantity time. You’ve read my resolution blog (http://coachsal.blogspot.com/2011/12/resolution-time.html) already, so you can see that I’m trying to hit lots of “high control” areas again. We’ll see how it goes!

    One question–will you be blogging about your reading this year? If so, same site as before? I downloaded the One Year Bible to my nook and did this morning’s reading first thing… wondering if there will be a place I can go to check in with my “Book Club.”

    Reply

    • Larry, I plan on reading through the blog, but I won’t be regularly blogging about the reading this year. If I have any new thoughts or questions, I will probably add them. I haven’t decided yet whether to add them on the bottom of the actual post, or as a comment. But it definitely won’t be a daily thing. If you ever want to “check in,” though, or have any new thoughts, you should leave them as a comment (even if you don’t read the actual post again:)). I’ll be sure to jump in; you know how I love a good discussion of the Bible!

      Reply

  2. Ironically, I read this post as I am about to sit down (okay, well, I did get as far as sitting) 🙂 and get my “to do” list and schedule all figured out for the week/month/etc. (Our team finally got all set up with an online calendar for our group/individuals; I am excited to get my stuff all plugged into it.) Around here, there are SO MANY things that just “pop up” that need doing that it is really easy to stay busy doing good, worthwhile things, but then not get to the things that would purposely shape a person into who they want to “be.” Some of the things I need to schedule in include Bible Reading, Prayer, Spanish Learning (I already have class several times a week, but I need to do more learning on my own), and Blogging/Information Sharing/Staying in Touch with People. (This is in addition, obviously, to actual “work” stuff, various projects, etc.) I am not a New Year’s Resolution making kind of person (the time table of it doesn’t matter so much to me, and I want to be careful about the promises I make), but if I did, it would be to do all of these things more and better. I think I have been thinking of these things mostly as things to “do,” items on a list and calendar that are important enough to be scheduled. But, I think you’re right that they translate (if I do them) into who I am. I would say that most of the things I would put on my list boil down (if in a roundabout way) to being a person who loves God and others. (BTW, I totally relate about love and how you use your words. I really need to work on how I speak to people. Like most things, though, that’s definitely one that God has to do in me.) Anyway, thanks for the good thoughts for my task at hand. 🙂

    Reply

    • Becky, I totally understand what you are saying about all the things that “pop up” that make it so necessary to be purposeful. (As an illustration on a smaller level, to respond to this comment, I first had to fiddle with our internet connection, which wasn’t working, and then immediately take a break to respond to the needs of my son and fix him some orange juice. Now, I can get to the comment:)). Like you, I’ve come to see the “pop up” stuff is important, AND the purposeful stuff is important. My tendency is to value the purposeful over the “pop up,” but I see more and more that that’s not necessarily true. Often, for me to die to myself, I have to cultivate the availability to meet the “pop up” needs, and not see them as interruptions, but as a vital part of my mission. It seems from your comment that you come at it the opposite way: you work to cultivate the purposeful, while I work to accommodate the “pop up.”

      Regardless, I can’t wait to see how God uses you and the rest of the Nica team in 2012! I will be praying for you guys, and I look forward to hearing all about it!

      Reply

      • I guess I have mixed feelings about the “pop ups.” On one extreme, sometimes it is exciting to live from one urgent thing to the next, but doing so (at least for me) does tend to leave out the discipline-type things that are necessary, but less fun. Actually, though, truth be told, one reason I am excited about having a method of scheduling things is so I will have a valid excuse to say “no” to some of the “pop ups.” Often I have this sense of “I have so many things to do!” which stems from a combination of things that are urgent (but not always important) and things that are important (but not always urgent). I guess maybe having a schedule helps me to figure out which is which and to feel like I have a little more control over the situation. I also often resent the “pop ups” as interruptions, but I think the reason for that is not so much because I am being interrupted but because it bothers me to have other people steal my time. However, I realize this is a love thing too, and sometimes I just need to love people by giving them my time. Still, I can’t help but feeling like keeping a little more control over my time will be a good thing. 🙂 Then I can better decide when it is right to give people my time, and hopefully I won’t feel as resentful about it.

        Reply

  3. Interestingly (to me 😉 I am finding that my goals for the year this year are ones that work better with the “pop-ups” that seem to characterize my current season. It seems that most days everything is a “pop-up” …many of those are also part of more purposeful things (i.e, raising godly little men is a very purposeful thing but often the best lessons are involving the things that continuously pop-up in our days).

    I think that before we can accomplish anything we have to have some measurable goals – even ones that seem to be somewhat subjective in their assessment of completion. For example, as a nurse one of my big (purposeful) objectives is to keep the level of pain for my patient at a level that is acceptable to them. The measurable goal is to keep them at a level they would rate as a 5 or less on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the greatest amount of pain). While my purpose is objective (keep them out of pain), and my “to do” is very objective (give pain meds, change their position ever few hours, or leave them alone) whether that goal is actually met is totally subjective ..based on my patient and how they FEEL about their pain. We use the number (the one that is between 0-10) to allow us to objectify the subjectivness of our objective goals…

    ALL THAT TO SAY …I think that the “doing” and “being” parts of our goals are important..because without the doing part, we can’t hope to be anything. We may need to make a list in hopes of being more organized. We may need to do bible reading every day in hopes of being more in the Word. We may need to workout every week 3 times in order to BE more in shape.

    We need to make clear goals with measurable objectives ..with the understanding that ultimately what we are hoping for is somewhat subjective in most cases. Because it is totally possible that you can do everything you are supposed to, be it keep a bed made every day (shout out to Ann!) for a year or read your bible every day, or workout three times a week but you can totally miss the more subjective goal that you are truly aiming for an that is perhaps to be mroe disciplined, to be more healthy or to be closer to God.

    if the heart/spirit are not ultimately involved/affected then what is the point of any of it? You can also miss a day making your bed, reading your bible or working out and still be meeting the more ultimate (more important) subjective goal.

    I think my point is that while it is a very good thing to have a mental focus for godly goals – we should be more focused on the more subjective completion, and not get too caught up in the objectives that help us meet that goal..because they really are there to help us complete a goal, and arent really the goal themselves 😉

    Reply

    • I like the distinction between subjective and objective goals. As a “checklist” person, it’s easier for me to focus on the objective. Sometimes my obsession with the objective actually hinders me in my pursuit of the subjective, which is sad because the subjective is more important!

      Reply

  4. Posted by housewifetheologian on January 4, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Kim, I’m right with you–my New Year’s resolution post came from Ps.1 : I want to be like that tree planted by the water that bears fruit in its proper season. Of course, David points out that comes from loving God’s Word. And, as you pointed out, God’s Spirit supplies that for us.

    Reply

    • Amy, I LOVE that image in Psalm 1. It is one of my favorite images in the Bible! Like you, I want to be that tree! I hope that God accomplishes wonderful things in your life in 2012!

      Reply

  5. back to the “pop-ups”…it seems for me that God is using pop-ups in my life to KEEP me from becoming so “list” and “task” oriented. when i am focussed on completing tasks and getting to the end of the list, i really am only existing and not living. i am not cultivating relationships with God or others, but i am “doing the next thing”. i am being transformed daily by allowing God to be in control of my day and to *think* about what His purposes are for EACH moment and EACH “pop-up”. this has shown me His grace and His desires for me in amazing ways. these interuptions in the past would have annoyed me and gotten me off track; now i find myself trying to stop and think about WHY i am here off track…what does God want from me RIGHT NOW? really neat stuff has happened to my heart. 🙂

    Reply

  6. […] 2012, my major “resolution” was to live a life of love.  I know myself well enough to know that I cannot simply will myself to be loving, and so this […]

    Reply

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