There’s no question about it: 2013 was a great year for us. How great was it? I chose a Christmas card that prominently featured the phrase, “Joyful and Triumphant” because that was how we felt as the year wound down. At the end of 2012, when I wrote about my hopes for 2013, my heart was kind of heavy. I longed for stronger social connections in Tennessee, and I desperately wanted to sell our house in South Carolina. This year, both of those things happened, and in addition to that, my husband won a full scholarship to get his Master’s degree in non-profit business administration! My semester of teaching college went well, homeschooling has been fabulous, our church had a great year in terms of baptisms and growth, and in general, life is good. So now here I am, writing my annual “New Year” post.
As usual, I am coming off a Christmas season full of decadence: over the last three weeks, the wheels have slowly come off of my disciplined life as I’ve neglected my habits and routines in favor of celebration. It’s been wonderful, but by this point in the month I am always aching to get back to a disciplined schedule. Thus, I have many mental “resolutions” about renewing my quiet time with God, continuing my exercise routines, eating better, being more purposeful with my kids, and so forth. But really, I’ve come to realize that those determinations are just part of my normal life, and don’t have much to do with the new year.
Instead, I want to use the new year to adjust my overall focus. Two years ago, I resolved to “live a life of love,” and I liked how that phrase guided me through the year. This year, I want my focus to be just one word: Relationship. I am naturally a goal-oriented person, and most of the time, I really like that characteristic. In my opinion, the easiest way to waste your life is to get lost in the minutiae of day-to-day existence and take your eyes off your “big picture” goals. That’s why I rarely question my compulsive need to step back and examine my life in the light of my overall aspirations. At the same time, I’ve noticed lately how my goal-oriented nature sometimes gets in the way of personal relationships.
The thing is, sometimes I put ideas before people. I see this clearly in a larger sense when our society experiences a culture war kerfuffle like we have experienced recently. When that happens, it seems like most people take a look at the two “sides,” see which one they have the most in common with, and then back the people on that side. It makes sense, I guess, in a “team sport” kind of way, but that’s just not the way I work. I don’t have “sides”; I have “causes.” Most notably, my “cause” is the kingdom of God, and my goal is the spreading of that kingdom. Anything that supports that cause gets my support. Anything that detracts from that cause does not get my support. It’s as simple as that. It’s not about people; it’s about ideas.
And in the big picture, maybe that’s okay: it seems somewhat petty to me to blindly back people just because they are more like you than the other guy. But I’ve also seen in the small picture how that orientation compromises relationships that I care about. For example, if I feel that someone doesn’t support my (in my mind, well-considered and sound) philosophy of parenting my children, I allow their lack of support to strain our relationship. Heck–sometimes my philosophy of child-raising even gets in the way of actual relationships with my children, since sometimes I allow my overall goals for them to rupture our relationship in the moment!
Faced with this shortcoming, I’m going to do what I do best: I’m going to set a goal to prioritize relationships!
As I’ve mulled over all this the last week or so, I’ve pictured my relationships in three concentric circles. From innermost to outermost, the circles are:
Family, Church, World.
This year I want to purposefully nurture and develop relationships in each of those circles. I’ve been brainstorming what that looks like, and I have so many different ideas, both large and small. There’s no point in trying to make an exhaustive list on this blog, but I do need something tangible and measurable in order for this to be a true, achievable resolution. So my goal is this: each Sunday, during my planning session for the week to come (which I routinely have, because that’s the way I roll), I’m going to spend time thinking about people and not just goals. I’m going to think of the people in my life in those categories and how I can strengthen relationships with them this year. And then over the week, I plan to carry out those goals, just like I carry out my educational goals, homemaking goals, fitness goals, etc. It might sound sterile, but I believe that this type of thinking and planning will help shift my mindset to be more “people-oriented.”
Ideas are important, but they are not more important than people. Goals are vital, but they aren’t helpful if you have to trample relationships to achieve them. And all of those lofty thoughts and hopes and ideals are nothing if their ultimate result is not more love for God and love for neighbor. Or rather, love for God through love for neighbor. This year, I want to love my neighbor in whatever form they come to me. And I want to put them before my ideas.