There is something very empowering about a new year – a clean slate, a fresh start. But 2021 is not just any new year. It comes on the heels of an ‘old year,’ unlike any in our lifetime. And if the first few days of 2021 are any indication, it is likely to be just as challenging, just as demanding as the one we were so anxious to see end.
Perhaps you’ve had ‘pandemic epiphanies’ in 2020; ‘Ah-Ha moments’ that reshuffled your priorities, casting light on habits or thought patterns that needed to change. Whether you enter this new year energized and ready to reimagine how life might be different in the coming days and months, or whether you have barely crawled your way up onto the shore of a new year, gasping for breath, shipwrecked and weary from the storms of 2020, I offer you a few thoughts on spiritual practices that may help to anchor you in God and bring you joy, meaning and deep rest in the coming year, whatever it may bring.
- Practice Gratitude
It is easy to get caught in the spin cycle of the chaos that surrounds us; to grow weary and frustrated and overwhelmed in a time when so much feels out of control. Gratitude is a spiritual practice that helps us to take a step back, to maintain perspective that there is much good amid the challenges, and to remind ourselves of the many ways that God is present and providing for us. Consider beginning or ending each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful. An intentional practice of gratitude shapes the lens through which we see the world – a world of abundance or scarcity, a world of threat or of promise.
- Cultivate Wonder
The difference between gratitude and wonder, to me, is that wonder often catches me by surprise. It is a gratitude that washes over me. When you come around a curve on the Blue Ridge Parkway and see the expanse of mountain ridges layered one beyond the next in hazy blue hues. It is the multitude of stars appearing in the night sky or the sudden, impulsive hug of a small child around your knees. It is the innovation of an underground park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, migrating Monarch butterflies filling the sky, the unexpected word of grace from a crusty old soul. Awe. Wonder. Hope. Imagination. We can’t create wonder, but we can put ourselves in a position to experience it, with humility, openness, expectation; praising God for who he is and wondering what he will be up to next.
- Make Room for Sabbath
My best friend is an Orthodox Jew. “When I light the Sabbath candles on Friday night, I can feel myself exhale,” she told me. Whether you have rushed to get everything done before you are cut off from work and the office and household chores, or whether you have entered gently into this moment, the exhale is there, she said. The body, the mind, and the spirit know — this is their time. And collectively, they rest.
Wouldn’t you love to know what that feels like? To have separation between the ordinary and the holy? Start with 5 minutes a day if you are convinced that is all you can muster. Set the alarm on your phone to go off at noon and then stop; stop for five minutes and sit before God, resting in his presence, received not for what you do or what you bring, but simply for who you are. Let your whole self exhale.
- Ask Great Questions
There are benefits to being the dumbest person in the room. I am not talking about intelligence; I’m talking about listening from a posture of not knowing, of curiosity. It is a skill that every good coach knows. So often as ministers we feel like we must have all the answers, or at least act like we do. But when we give ourselves permission to ask questions, instead of offering answers, we get to journey with our people on their own road of discovery. Think about the questions Jesus asked his disciples. “What do you want?” “Who do you say that I am?” Questions that provoked thought and internal wrestling. Jesus did not manipulate them to a predetermined answer but gave them space to make their faith their own, to develop the internal understanding that leadership required of them.
- Be Uniquely You
I am an Enneagram 4. We live to be unique. If we are just like everyone else, what’s the point? Truth is, God has made you unique. You have a combination of gifts, personality, sphere of influence, way of seeing the world like no one else. And the world needs to see how God is reflected through you, the real you. Trust that you are enough, just the way you are.
- Notice God
“Where have you seen God today?” It’s a simple question that a friend of mine taught me to start asking myself at the end of the day, a question that I commend to you as well. We see what we expect to see, for better or for worse. We are shaped by what we notice, what we look for – in others and in the world.
- Share the Journey
Few things will take a toll on your spirit and your ministry like isolation. You may know this all too well. I speak with too many ministers who are despairing. It’s a strong word, but it is the one that they choose. The common thread among these ministers is isolation. If this is your story, make 2021 the year that is going to be different. Commit now to building a support system. Identify a trusted lay leader, another pastor in town or in the next city or of a different denomination. A friend who is not connected to ministry at all. We are shaped for community, to carry one another’s burdens. To offer a voice of hope or reason when one is going off the rails; to give perspective when the thoughts in our head have become all consuming. It does not have to be therapy; it may just be coffee. Someone else may need your voice as much as you need theirs, maybe for different reasons. Share. Laugh. Breathe.
God’s mercies are new every morning. May you experience the abundance of God’s grace and God’s joy as you seek him and serve him in the year ahead.