Hey there, as we inch close to the NEW YEAR, I’m sharing my “word” from three years ago (2017) before I share my word from this year (2020), which was JOY— go ahead, laugh it up. Sharing in the space has given me a way to connect with people all over and it has been so sweet. This one is a long one but I hope that maybe these words I felt so deeply then helps you in the near and now. I think 2020 has taught this lesson to so many of us. I know I got an updated version.
Each New Year, I choose a word. I reflect and ponder on this one word all year long. This is not something I have shared in the past; not even with those closest to me. Mainly because it is pretty personal between me and Lord and this process has become more of a self reflection and an evaluation. The fierce desire to always compete with and push myself implanted itself firmly in my DNA. I’m extremely self competitive, and this chosen word is a way for me to focus on the “now”and not the “then.” I’m not sure where this tradition of ”word choosing” even began, other than the fact I know I’ve never been a big fan of New Year resolutions. Mainly because if you know me at all, you are aware I struggle with inattentiveness; therefore, resolutions are reminders I have begun something that most likely will not be seen to completion. Hence, I focus on the word and the task doesn’t seem so daunting… I know, I know: tomato, “tomahto.”
This January, I began reading a book a close friend of mine had suggested I read the previous Fall. I put it off reading it, claiming the timing was not right, both hiding behind the stack of books waiting to be read and my own pride. She responded kindly and said, “I know you have a million roles and a million things going on, but I think you need the message in this book.” More out of duty than desire, I downloaded the audio copy and began half heartedly listening to this book. From the moment the author began speaking, I felt like she was talking directly to me! Not in a condescending manner, but instead, as if we were sitting on her couch having a conversation: she had poured me a vanilla latte, and we were just having one of those soul chats. You know, the kind where you meet someone, and you just “click”, hitting it off that very instant, feeling like they’ve known you your whole life. My dishwashing abruptly halted, and the only water that continued to flow was the waterfall coming from my eyes.
The words she was saying were words that stung. They hurt. They shattered years of tradition. They shattered my pride. They made me question and wrestle with the purpose of each and every one of my roles.
And I’ve never been more grateful.
To put things in perspective, I’m a Martha and not a Mary. I’m usually the one wagging a finger saying, “get to work.” There’s much to do… there’s little time and I want to see it all accomplished. I don’t like missing out on anything, and rarely, do I sit still. If perchance, circumstances force me to be still, know that every fiber in my being is loudly protesting! Obviously, I’ve never taken the “BE STILL” Scriptures to heart. In fact, I would consider being still for a full ten minutes a great achievement any day of the week.
By being the “ busy body”, and the “list checker”, I am also the one who sees the list as NEVERENDING! The way I was living my life was setting myself up for complete failure, utter exhaustion, and blinding myself with an infinite task list; consequently, stealing joy from life’s most precious moments.
I realized I found so much worth in having empty laundry baskets, clean bathrooms, and a crossed off to do list. What never occurred to me was the fact that I was not being present with my loved ones. I focused on the task, and not on the one the task was being done for. I was missing out on treasured moments in time, focusing only on the next thing to accomplish.
Then I heard the author speak these words and my paradigm shifted:
“I’m not building a castle or a monument; I’m building a soul and a family. I’ll tell stories all my life, writing on napkins and on the backs of receipts, or in books if they let me, but this is the promise I make to my God: I will never again be so careless, so cavalier with the body and soul you’ve given me. They are the only things in all the world that have been entrusted entirely to me, and I stewarded them poorly, worshiping for a time at the altars of productivity, capability, busyness, distraction. This body and soul will become again what God intended them to be: living sacrifices, offered only to him. I will spend my life on meaning, on connection, on love, on freedom. I will not waste one more day trapped in comparison, competition, proving, and earning. That’s the currency of a culture that has nothing to offer me (Shauna Niequest, Present over Perfect).”
I abused my body while trying to complete the “To Do List”. While seeking to find worth in wanting to do it all, be all, I was being worthless to the ones I loved most. I was missing out on all the important things. I was giving them an empty well, neglecting them from the presence they deserved.
So over the last twelve months, I’ve been breaking down Scriptures to learn about being present with others. Not as if I were hitting a “Like” button on social media, but listening, noticing facial expressions when they talk; getting to know them through meaningful conversation while intentionally being still. I’ve been learning to live in diligence. To persistently work toward presence and learning that the voice of Jesus is so much more loving than the voices telling me what’s next on the “list”. This is just the beginning. I have so much to learn and so many habits to tear down. But I must be diligent and I must be present. They go hand in hand. Not because I want my reputation to be steadfast, but because our Savior does not desire for us to be a vessel that is emotionally unavailable and parched. He asked Martha to be a Mary. Martha was annoyed by the lack of help; she was frustrated that responsibility all fell on her while her sister “selfishly” sat. Mary took in the Savior’s facial features and listened to His voice; she knew this opportunity wouldn’t come again. Instead of impressing Jesus or others with a perfectly timed meal, or a spotless den, she sat there at His feet, taking in the moment while being present. Listening. Laughing. Knowing this was a rare moment, especially since a woman was never invited into a male dominant conversation or taking the posture of learning at a Rabbi’s feet during those times . I’m sure her visit with Jesus was rich in the moment. Instead of catching glances of her Savior as she kept busy preparing a meal, Mary could tell others of what His presence embodied.
That’s the kind of story I want to share. I want to be present in the story so the sharing can be first hand- not secondhand. In order to do so, I must be present. And sometimes that means having the laundry pile a little higher than I would like. I don’t want to be known for only having an organized life with the all the checks on the “list”. I want to be known for how hard I love others and how deeply I love the soul conversations, and the reason for that is: a perfect Savior knew that I could never achieve my salvation or be enough and still thought I was worth it.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Niequest, Shauna. Present Over Perfect.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.