I don't make New Year resolutions because it feels like I'm setting myself up for failure. But during the quiet and languid days between Christmas and the New Year, I enjoy reflecting on the past and considering ways to be a better human, to live a better life. It occurred to me that I spent countless hours in 2012 in conversations with women over breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, bleachers, wherever, and though the names and places were different the themes were almost always the same. Women deeply desire to live and be better, but we are constantly at war with ourselves. Fear and failure have crept into positions of authority over our lives. We like things neat and tidy, but sometimes, life is just messy and downright dirty.
In striving for a better life, we're often consumed by the internal struggle for contentment. Dissatisfaction is rooted in our very nature. With one bite of the apple, we were destined to a messy life of anxious longing. We choose to eat that thing, yell at that kid, or say yes to that commitment, because it's easier than going to battle... again. It's hard work to drop that cookie and have a healthy body. Working out is inconvenient. It's painful. Sweat stinks. Talking through issues with our kids is time consuming -- it's easier to say, "Because I said so!" Saying "no" to a friend might disappoint her. So you get a sitter instead of letting her down, but now, something else has to give (see your husband and kids).
Paradoxical, don't you think? What comes "easily" -- eating that brownie, yelling at kids, saying yes to a friend, fill in the blank -- is often the source of our greatest struggles. Doing what's hard is often the source of true peace and our greatest successes.
The battle for contentment rages daily. We live in a conflicted, complex world, and we often live as reflections of that environment rather than as a reflection of the God whom we proclaim has authority over our lives. We can use our messes as offerings to God. Our yearly, daily, momentary resolutions, when they involve the cleansing, healing presence of Christ, become a source of restoration for ourselves and every relationship in our lives.
After many years of conversations with women, I have a few tactics that might be useful for the war raging in you:
One hole in your head serves as gatekeeper to your wellbeing. Your mouth wields extraordinary power capable of devouring your entire body, mind, and spirit. The mouth savors, kisses, reveals, and cuts -- no matter how much we color and gloss our lips they merely adorn the entrance to a dark tunnel. The source of light for that dark place comes when we fill our two eyes and two ears with Godly wisdom to flow both in and out of our ONE mouth. That which you bring to your mouth -- the kiss, the food -- or words which flow from your mouth -- the kind, the angry -- should be carefully considered.
You don't have to be right. You don't lose when you submit. Paradoxical truth time -- submission empowers. Study it. Apologize. Deal with your anger -- it's rarely expressed because you're mad, it's usually something deeper, typically rooted in fear. When you talk about your fears, anger dissipates. If your husband isn't a great listener, call a friend, get a therapist, find a way to remove fear. You can't live in fear and live in Christ. Fear and faith cannot coexist.
Laughing together heals. If you don't know how, set your DVR to record Ellen, it's laugh therapy. If you don't have a DVR, get one. It's 2013. If you can afford a cup of coffee at Starbucks every day, you can afford a DVR.
Pray together. Awkward, right? Go back to what I said about fear and deal with it. Praying together is profoundly intimate. Let go. Bare it all. Which leads me to another topic.
Get your sex on. Specifically, married sex. If you're the wife who regularly says "not tonight" or who never initiates, it's time. This isn't about having sex. Any monkey can do that. Be sexual with your husband. Embrace your sexuality. Enjoy it. If you don't know how to enjoy it, there are resources available for this. You deserve to have this part of your life in good working order. Go to your spouse to figure this out. Your girlfriends are helpful, but your man will have more answers. Listen to him. Talk about it. If you can pray together, surely you can talk about what works in the bedroom?
Greet one another every day. Hello and goodbye. Kiss and hug and in front of the kids. Gross 'em out, just a little.
Play together. Stop what you are doing and experience your kids. Say yes. Dishes can wait. Did you get that? The dang dishes can wait! So can that load of laundry. Confession: I've washed the same load three times because it sat in the washer too long and got funky. Don't judge! In all fairness, it's partly a forgetfulness issue (again, don't judge!) But it's also a choice. What we do equates to what we value. Ouch, convicting.
Get dirty. Set aside the need to maintain the outward appearance of perfection. Value relationships more than you value shiny countertops. Leave the dirty dishes and dirty laundry to go get dirty with your husband (there I go with the sex thing again!). How about getting in the dirt in the backyard with the kids? Make time to play and get dirty. Life is now.
Converse with your kids about more than school and homework. Talk about current events, interesting people, new discoveries. Share the joys of your childhood with your kids, instead of comparing your glorious generation to their defunct generation. Teach them to do anything... make an egg, paint, clean, sew a button, make a fort.
Serve. This doesn't mean deplete yourself. This means love your neighbor as yourself. Pastor Karl Galik loves to point out that the commandment does not say, "Love your neighbor instead of yourself." Self matters. But selflessness matters too. Service is the best of both worlds. I have witnessed countless times the healing power of service. What we do for the benefit of others, remarkably has an even greater benefit for self. Not always easy or convenient, but vital to humanity.
Live gratitude. In the exchange of one negative emotion for gratitude we discover the source of transformational power living within us. Tap into it. It's holy.
New Years resolutions begin to fail right about now. We're a predictable lot, but have hope! He has not only given you a new year, but a new day. What you do with it is up to you. Maybe it's time to get messy, even a little dirty... literally and figuratively. Whatever you resolve to do, or think, or eat, or say has the potential to cause an internal or external mess. When we allow the cleansing presence of God to wash over every choice, we experience restoration, growth and success, no matter how messy life gets.