Ive always felt weird about new years resolutions. Partly because no one sticks to them, partly because they are cliche, partly because, at least in Southern California, they are typically body image related. Making a list at the beginning of a 365 day mark seems strange to me.
It seems useless, if I’m being honest. (And I love lists.)
But I’ve always loved end of year reflections – looking back on the past year, dreaming of the new one. Not focussing on what you’ve done wrong thus far in life, and how to correct yourself in the new year – but seeking out some growth areas. Maybe that is exactly what new years resolutions are, and you’re rolling your eyes at me for being the most annoying kind of hipster. Whatever.
In the past I’ve thought of things to stop and start in the new year, I’ve thought of a word or phrase to focus on. Ive tried to embrace the new season and see what God wanted for me in it. (That’s always a scary question to ask, I’ve learned – God, what do you want for me in this? What do you have for store for me here?)
This year I don’t have any pretty phrases or a word or a list. This year, like most of 2017, I’m coming up blank. I have way more questions than answers, way more worries festering than dreams growing. My biggest one, as the year comes to a close, is this: what even marks a year of growth?
It’s easy when there are big flashy moments in your year to point back to – graduation, marriage, a promotion. When you’ve physically moved somewhere new or physically entered a new life stage (new decade, new parent, new homeowner), it’s impossible to deny. The growth is obvious and physical and real.
Or so we like to think, right? People get married and we’re like wow, so mature! So great together! Except… sometimes they aren’t. People buy a house and were like dang, they have things together! Except… not always. This is not my point today, but I think it’s an important point all the same: sometimes we see the check mark, and we think the maturity, the hard work, the behind the scenes steps have all happened. We assume things. Sometimes we assume wrong. Sometimes there are shortcuts to the achievement marks, sometimes you can cut in line to make it look like you’re ahead of the game.
I’ve learned it’s worth feeling like you’re last in line if you’re actually doing the work involved.
ANYWAY, what about the years where you don’t have a major breakthrough on your resume? What does growth look like then? In 2014 I graduated college, had a major surgery, moved to Malawi. In 2015 I moved back to SD, opened and oversaw the American office of a Ugandan non-profit. 2016 I decided to leave the non-profit world, decided to leave Flood Youth, and (it felt like) I decided to leave my whole identity. 2017 I…. was here.
And yet 2017 somehow feels like a year of important growth for me. I can’t quite pinpoint why. Sure, I bought a ticket to Europe. I got a second tattoo. I had some good times, and some rough times, to be sure – but it doesn’t feel major, it doesn’t feel special.
It feels a lot like normal life.
I’ve wrestled with this a lot, especially in my post-Malawi days. What does it look like when God calls you to the seemingly mundane? What does it look like for you to commit to a seemingly normal life? What if your mission field is a 9-to-5 job in a cubicle?
What does growth look like, then? When life is just…. life? When you go grocery shopping most Tuesday mornings and try to do yoga twice a week (to explain away the expensive membership) and have weekly commitments Thursday and Sunday nights and try to squeeze your social life into the remaining free hours. What does growth look like when things seemingly aren’t changing, when the year holds no big momentous events?
I think it’s in the little moments.
I think it’s in the choices we make, sometimes more so than the actions we see on display. I think it’s in the words we use, the thoughts we think, the way we spend our time and money and energy. I think growth is more evident in how we carry ourselves and feel about the world around us than any change of marital status, bank account, or address.
For the person who has always compartmentalized her life, her friend groups, her plans – it’s breaking down walls you built, breaking rules you wrote, and breaking up the usual routine. It’s inviting your friends over to your house every Tuesday in the summer to sit around a fire pit and just hang. It’s opening your front door and opening a bottle of wine and allowing all your friends to intermingle and become friends themselves because, *surprise surprise* your favorite people actually get along with each other, and realizing that it’s actually the best thing ever. It’s realizing your rules and your compartmentalization has cost you so much freedom over the years. It’s cost you so much fun.
For the person who is too personal for her own good (and ironically blogs about her life on the internet) – it’s being more open about things you care about, things you enjoy. It’s sharing your passions and hobbies even when they are as strange as raccoons and puzzles and donuts and beer and reading more books than most people understand. It’s allowing yourself to be truly you – especially more you than you were last year, or the year before that. It’s allowing yourself to be truly known – by safe people in trusted spaces – and discovering what a sacred specialness that is.
For the person who likes to think thing through 500 times before moving forward and tries her hardest to ensure never failing – it’s taking steps forward without knowing where they’ll go, jumping off cliffs without knowing where she’ll fall, and trying new things just to see what they’re like. It’s saying yes to more social events than she would prefer, walking into crowded rooms alone (scary!), and joining groups of people who don’t look like her or think like her or talk like her. It’s embracing failure and mistakes and mishaps as part of the process. It’s allowing herself to be human – and even enjoying some of the scraped knees.
For the person who can too easily get caught up in schedules and to-do lists and plans and details – it’s sitting back and not checking email for a day. It’s not even responding to some people, some things, or some problems. It’s choosing sanity over a new blog, choosing stillness over another book, choosing people over a completed to-do list. It’s making conscious efforts to be less busy in order to have more time to be.
For the person who likes to understand everything – and I mean ev.ry.thang., it’s being okay with the unknown. Asking questions and being okay with no answer. It’s coming to peace with the fact that some things in the world, some people in the world, you’ll never fully understand. It’s coming to peace with the fact that we were never meant to. It’s accepting that I was never meant to have all the answers – and actually learning to be grateful that I, in fact, do not have all the answers.
Growth is hard to measure. It’s personal, it’s rarely straight forward, and most times it’s messy. One step forward, two steps back, 3 diagonal steps northeast, one 180 turn, two steps forward – where even are we anymore?? I know that feeling.
I’m learning to be okay with growth in the small moments, growth in the smallest senses. I’m learning to see the signals of growth and the signals of health in the everyday. I’m learning to both seek invitations for growth and to acknowledge my limits.
I’m learning to seek my truest self which, in turn, has me seeking my Creator. Two processes that go hand in hand with each other – you need to know One intimately to be able to know the other. That involves a lot of questions, too few answers, a lot of back and forth, a lot of growth when the growth is hard to see from the outside. 2017 may have seemed like a lot of just life for me. But it also held steps forward in the areas that count. At least the areas I’m trying to grow in.
2018 is upon us and I’m not making any lists or resolutions or words. I think I’m gonna try to keep learning, and keep growing, as much as possible this year. I think I’d like to do that every year.