entering the new year with intention

I am writing this the day after Epiphany, which is the last day of Christmas. It seems fitting, today, to turn our thoughts more fully towards the new year and all that it brings. In the last few days, the UK finally left the European Union for good and then went into a national lockdown as COVID contagion accelerates and threatens to overwhelm the NHS. In the last 24 hours, the US witnessed astonishing scenes as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building.

Perhaps, like many of us, you had hoped that as the calendar flipped into 2021 a new and more hopeful landscape would reveal itself. We all hoped that the new year would bring greater stability and offer us the opportunity to look forward with a measure of certainty. If the last few days are anything to go by, we still have a way to go before we see the sort of settledness for which we hope. Given this reality, how might we posture ourselves towards the coming year? When so much remains outside our control, what are some things we can do in order to manage our lives well in this season?

ruling our mini-kingdom

Dallas Willard, master teacher about what it means to live a Christ-centred life, described our personhood as ‘mini-kingdoms.’ Yes, he reminds us, we have been called to rule and reign with Jesus as he brings about his good kingdom. What a great and stirring vocation for all who are following our king! And where do we learn how to be wise regents? Well, in our own small lives of course: through the empowering presence of Holy Spirit, we learn to make good choices that result in lasting change. Those choices begin close to home and work their way out from there, as we are conformed to Jesus and his ways.

This thought comes to mind as I think about this new year. There is so much that is beyond me and outside my control, as our world experiences a sort of cosmic unsettling in the wake of a global pandemic and significant political shifts. This can bring about in me an insecurity that makes it tempting to simply hide under the duvet until things take a turn for the better! It’s true that we can feel paralysed, or we can anaesthetise ourselves by binging on Netflix or Amazon purchases. How do we navigate this season in ways that continue to orientate us to God’s good future, when any plans we make will likely get thrown out of the window as yet another lockdown looms?

I believe we would do well to consider Willard’s words. When so much seems beyond my immediate control, where can I exercise influence? That is, what lies within the realm of my mini-kingdom? And how will I choose to rule here?

In the spirit of of encouragement and invitation, I offer a few questions here if you would like to join me in reflecting along these lines:

1. My daily rhythm

In what way is the rhythm of my days life-giving? What are those routines that replenish me? What do I read, watch, reflect on that helps to orientate me towards goodness and truth? What is one small thing I can do at the beginning and/or at the end of the day that will provide a tether for me as I seek to build a life of goodness?

2. My physical & emotional well-being

How am I taking care of the ‘house of my being?’ That is, to what extent is the way I eat nourishing and strengthening me? What routines can I establish to make both movement and rest a predictable part of each day? In what ways am I taking time to listen to what my body is telling me about how the events around me are affecting my emotions? And how am I learning to return my soul to a place of peace?

3. My relationships

How are my relationships faring in this challenging season? In what way might I keep a regular check on my own reactions as I communicate with those closest to me? How could I respond when I notice that I am becoming impatient, or frustrated, or when I need to have an intentional conversation for the health of a particular relationship? What are some ways I may need to draw back from a breadth of virtual relationships in order to be more present with those nearby?

4. My environment

In what ways am I cultivating an environment where I live and work that fosters a sense of order, beauty and hospitality? What is one thing I could do on a regular basis to create an environment of peace, for myself and others? Are there things that need repairing, or cleaning, or organising, or removing in order for my environment to be a place that feels like a good place to be? What could I do next?

5. My resources

What does it mean for me to be realistic about the energy, time, capacity, or finances I have available? In what way might it help me to have a routine of evaluating and prioritising my resources? While these priorities may need to change (and even often) how can I best steward what is truly available to me? And how can I use these resources to generate more of the goodness I want to see in the world?

I believe that as each of us cultivates goodness in the places where we have immediate influence, that same goodness will extend out from us. We grow places of goodness in our families, our neighbourhoods, among our colleagues. As we look at the year ahead of us, it could be that we wonder how we might influence the wider world in the ways we’d like. Perhaps if we start small, paying attention to our own mini-kingdoms, we may find that in fact we play our part in bringing about God’s good kingdom, in ways that extend far beyond ourselves.