From mid-December to mid-January, the storylines begin changing. SportsCenter moves from the best plays of the past year to bold predictions for the upcoming year. Time Magazine names their Person of the Year, then shifts to prognosticating trends for the following year. Others consider the prior year’s best tools or resources before boldly forecasting what’s to come . . . and the list goes on.
We’re equally fascinated with looking backward to reflect on past achievements and looking ahead to the future . . . but what about the in-between? What about the interim steps we need to take to achieve our goals? Why is the present so often overlooked in our quest to redefine our future?
In her book Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequest writes that the present is . . .
- “living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem.”
- “choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale.”
- “understand[ing] that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness.”
Living in the present requires attentiveness, awareness, and intentionality. Living in the present is a choice we must make every day.
Matthew 6:34 reminds us not to be “anxious for tomorrow,” while James 4:14 reminds us that we “do not know what [our] life will be like tomorrow. [We] are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
Many exercises can anchor us in the present, but one I like comes from author and speaker Jon Gordon. Rather than list out resolutions that are hard to achieve, Gordon recommends choosing “one word” and asking a few key questions to help clarify your answer:
- What do you want to focus on this year?
- What’s in the way?
- What do you need more or less of?
- What needs to change?
If you want to take it a step further once you choose your word, assign a Scripture to it, and post it in several places where you see it daily.
For me, I’m going to lean into the word “gentle.” A few thoughts on what being gentle means to me . . .
- Author Gary Thomas defines gentleness as “a strong hand with a soft touch.” Gentle is not lacking power but recognizing the Ultimate Source of our power.
- Andy Stanley describes gentleness as “the decision to respond to you in light of your strengths and weaknesses instead of responding to you in my strength.” So even if you think you’re gentle, the person on the receiving end of your words and actions may not – and ultimately, they determine your level of gentleness.
2020 provided all of us with unique opportunities and challenges. Looking back on the year, my lack of gentleness created avoidable moments of stress for my family and me. When I lost patience with my boys, I lost my gentleness. When Susan and I got into a rough patch, I lost my gentleness. When I focused more on getting things done than the people I was working with, I lost my gentleness.
So, for 2021, I am focusing on being gentle in words and actions. And Philippians 4:5 will serve as my guide – “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”
What about you? What’s your word for 2021? If you don’t have one, what do you have to lose? Put your resolutions away and give yourself a simple focus for the new year . . . anchor yourself with a word and Scripture and watch God move.
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