For the past few years, I’ve ditched traditional New Year’s resolutions, replacing them instead with three focus words.
Last year, my selected words were:
Honestly, I did reasonably well with a focus on strength. I stopped allowing day-to-day events to hijack my emotions so readily. I learned to accept some inevitable imperfections in the short-term, while also planning for change that would bring improvement long-term.
And when faced with some heavy stuff – loved ones being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or getting a negative follow-up report; meeting my biological father for the first time as he made sense of his looming death; and giving my teenagers increased freedom to make their own decisions – I was proud of how I remained reasonably strong.
I didn’t do as well with connection. I had intended to make 2018 the year that I devoted more time to reconnecting with old friends, while also establishing some new friendships. With a couple of exceptions, I failed at this effort pretty miserably. When I had a rare free evening or afternoon, I usually felt like spending it either alone or recharging with my immediate family.
My effectiveness at having more “fun” was a bit mixed. On one hand, I do think we made time for fun. There were family game nights, trips to the movies, weekends spent out of town and unplanned moments of sheer, laugh-until-you-sob hilarity. And yet, I have to admit that while I had fun this year, I sometimes allowed challenges to overshadow fun in ways that I can’t quite be proud of.
Looking Ahead with Intention
Regardless of the mixed bag of last year, I am still selecting three words I want to focus on now that 2019 is here.
For 2019, my three focus words are:
Calm is mostly a recognition that this season in my life calls for an intentional pursuit of peace.
Helping two children to navigate the teen years is no easy task. From driving to dating, friendships gone bad to frustrations with sports tryouts and playing time, it can be hard not to worry about how my eighth and ninth graders will fare in the coming years.
At my core, I want to protect my teens from the roughest of times. I fantasize about fighting their battles for them – telling off the mean girl, helping the coach to see the error of his ways, and clearing both the literal and figurative roadways of all hazards big and small.
But I know that what my teens really require from me right now is calm. They need me to listen with both an accepting and calm spirit. They long to know that I can handle their toughest, most gut-wrenching stories without panicking. If I head into battle every time they are wronged, they will stop telling me about the trials they are facing, because ultimately, they are (mostly) their trials to navigate.
Less Talk, More (Political) Action
At the same time, engagement for me is primarily about a desire to become more involved in my community. When we moved back to my home state of Mississippi a little more than three years ago, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and families here. This state has been very good to me – and I believe strongly it’s time for me to get busy paying that goodness forward.
I’ve been lucky to do some of that forward-paying through my work in education. But I also believe that this work will be incomplete if I also do not speak truth to power in the political realm.
This year, Mississippi has some big state elections – and I know that it’s time for me to get involved in campaigning for the people I believe can make systemic improvements to our public education system. That is going to mean less time running my mouth on social media and more time actually doing the hard, in-the-trenches work of campaigning.
Church Sausage Making
I also know that I need to become more engaged in my place of worship. Petty church divisions – and church people – have left me heartsick more times than I can stand to recount. I often find that I don’t trust the church – or its people – because of the pain I’ve experienced in the past. In a lot of ways, I’ve viewed the inner-workings of the church a lot like sausage-making – sometimes, it’s best not to know the details of exactly how things come together.
Yet, I know that when it comes to my church life in this season, I will only get as much out as I put in. So, I’m going to take the risk of putting in more, getting to know some people and making myself more available for service. It’s terrifying – more terrifying to me than political engagement, somehow – but it’s also a step I think it’s time to make.
When it comes to my third word – community – I see the natural tie-in to engagement. In 2018, I struggled to make the time for connections with individual people. I intended to do that connecting through dinners out, time for coffee, in-home gatherings, book clubs, and related events.
Yet something about that idea never quite motivated me to action for more than a day or three. Shifting the focus from connection to individuals to connections to an actual community feels more natural to me. And I know from experience that I often make some of my most rewarding connections while focusing on supporting others through community.
What About You?
Do any of you select focus words for the new year? If so, what are your words? What words might you select if you haven’t already? What are your hopes for the new year?