Note to My Readers: Due to the busyness of my summer schedule, in which I'm serving as a camp pastor on top of my normal duties, I'll be putting my ongoing Thursday and Friday series on hold until mid-August. All other days will continue to feature new content as usual, and the Thursday and Friday slots will offer devotional and theological reflections (heretofore unpublished) from my seminary years.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Lifetime Resolutions

As it's customary to make resolutions on New Year's Day, I thought I'd share a set of "lifetime resolutions" that I wrote down for myself on this day three years ago. A few of them are specific to me personally, but most would find good application with anyone. It's a long list, but if you're anything like me, you should find them challenging and thoughtful enough to be worth the read.

I will cultivate the practice of joy:
-          Joy in Others
-          I will love and honor my family. I will always strive to give them the best of who I am.
-          I will always give others the benefit of the doubt. I will ascribe the best of motives to them. When they fail or disappoint me, I will seek to understand their failing within the context of their own life and circumstances, always keeping in mind that most people have not had the advantage of life-situations that encourage the disciplined growth of virtue. I will never let anything they do diminish the respect I have for the dignity of the human creature as manifest in them. I will strive to believe better things of others than I know to be true of myself, realizing that many times this will in fact be the case.
-          While striving to understand others is important, I will also recognize that at times I must take a stand against other people or against their actions in order to curb the spread of evil. This is done, as much as is possible, with the ultimate good of all people—including the evildoer himself—in mind.
-          I will keep in mind that every person I meet comes from a different culture—whether that is a national, local, or family culture—and so I can have no claim to any sort of expectations on their ways of thinking or their behavior (beyond the basic moral principles which bind all humanity).
-          Knowing that selfishness and folly are endemic to all human nature, including my own, I will diligently cultivate my own virtues, so that I can then make available the fruit of wisdom to those around me.
-          I will always take seriously the advice, perspectives, and criticisms of those around me, knowing that their perspective might be edifying, wise, and true, and might give insight into some of the limitations of my character.
-          I will bear with ill-humored, angry, and rude persons graciously, knowing that I myself, when tired or stressed or in pain, am very much liable to the same faults.
-          I will endeavor, at all times and in all possible ways, to understand others in their own terms rather than through my pre-judged frames of reference, knowing that I expect the same courtesy from them.
-          In social situations, I will strive to be confident and comfortable with myself. I will stand up straight and smile often, knowing that this is a gift not only to myself, but to others as well.
-          I will seek not only to be confident in myself, but to encourage confidence in others. It will be my goal to set others at ease in my presence through my own level of comfort, contentment, and graciousness. I will strive to be a welcoming presence for others.
-          I will seek to love others in ways that fall within the sphere of my ability, without necessarily expecting to receive love or attention in return.
-          I will give special attention to the very young and special respect to the very old. Caring for them is not to be regarded as an indignity, but an honor and a joy.
-          I will remember to care for the forgotten, the broken, and the sorrowing, recognizing that life is very hard—at times simply tragic—for many of the people I meet, and that my own happier fortunes are very much the exception. I will seek to bless the sorrowing from the bounty given to me, and to remember that before very long I may well be in their same circumstances.
-          I will always be among the first to step forward and offer help to someone in need, even in situations where it might cost me dearly.
-          I will refuse to judge others for faults that I myself wrestle against. For those who exhibit other and greater faults than these, I will recognize that they may well be victims of unchosen circumstances.
-          I will be assertive and forthright, never hesitating to speak a necessary word, though always bearing in mind the feelings and sensitivities of my interlocutors. I will bear in mind that in most times and in most cases, a well-explained word of honesty is more appreciated than a half-truth designed to soothe emotions or to protect my own comfort.
-          I will hone my natural sense of humor and use it freely and responsibly in social situations, knowing that providing an opportunity for laughter is among the best gifts one can give others.
-          I will always keep in mind that spending time with other people, even in the simplest conversations, is a good use of my time. People are more important than my reading, my writing, and my rest, and I will honor them by attending to their presence, as much as I am able to do so within the healthy boundaries of my capacity.
-          I will remember that physical beauty, although a God-given grace to be received and appreciated with gratitude, is a swiftly-passing thing and thus something not to be idolized or sought as its own end. I will remember that people who are physically attractive are fellow humans worthy of immense respect in their own right, and not to be used as objects to gratify one’s appetites or to affirm one’s self-worth in gaining their attention. I will also remember that those not graced with physical beauty are worthy of just as much respect, attention, and favor as others, if not more.
-          Joy in Myself
-          I will practice a daily rule of life that includes provisions for healthy eating, exercise, devotions, and study habits, knowing that my nature is naturally slack and slothful enough to need the rigor of a goal-oriented system of practice.
-          I will seek to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In doing so, I will always keep in mind that I am not pursuing vanity such as the world now values, but that I myself feel far better and am able to walk far more graciously with others when I am healthy.
-          I will continue to keep a regular practice of devotional exercises, knowing that I am at my best when I take time to recognize that the universe and its Creator are far bigger than my vastest imaginings and that I am, by contrast, small and insignificant and swiftly-passing. I am at my best when I choose to hope in the possibility of eternal love, and when I am convinced that that love can be experienced and transmitted here and now. I am at my best when I am being shaped, through obedient reflection and practice, by the example of Christ and the great heroes of our faith.
-          I will diligently craft my intellect by submitting it to the moderate but constant practice of new learning. I will seek to learn not only new content, but new ways of thinking, pushing myself to understand areas of knowledge that are now beyond my understanding. I will remain open to all possibilities of truth, and I will never give in to the vainglorious despair of thinking that there may not be any one great truth worth pursuing out there. I will practice the skill of “critical thinking,” but not to the degree that I cannot have the joy of believing in something beautiful, even if it seems unlikely. I will submit these habits of my intellect to the One who has revealed himself as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," trusting that all truth is his truth.
-          I will practice the joy of creativity in my writing. I will not seek to write what will be popular or financially successful; I will write stories that I enjoy, stories that fill me up with pleasure and which I delight to share with others. I will write about substantive and edifying things, in a winsome way that brings forth the glory and appeal of true virtue. I will recognize always that I am not as good a writer as many others out there, and I have no cause whatsoever to be jealous of writers more successful than I.
-          I will write poems regularly—poems for the people I love, poems about the little wonders of everyday life, and poems about the journey of my soul. When appropriate, I will share these poems.
-          I will challenge myself to broaden my intellectual and personal horizons through the study and practice of foreign languages, music, and the visual arts.
-          I will continue to pursue the ideal of moderation in those areas of life that can quickly become detrimental if too much time is given to them—television, Internet usage, etc.
-          I will remind myself regularly of the fact of human mortality. I am a swiftly-passing being, a mist before the sun, and even within the span of this life the things I enjoy most about myself—my intellect, my youthful aspect, my ability to use words and create stories—will be stripped away from me. Therefore, I will remember that I am more than simply my aptitudes, assets, and appearance, and that my worth is defined by my personhood alone. But I will also keep in mind that this too might be taken from me, and I will learn the difficult humility of remembering that one day, apart from an uncompelled act of God, I would be no more than a handful of dust and a forgotten name on a gravestone. This will affirm to me the folly of pride, the importance of living out joy in my daily life, and the necessity of focusing on things that will last—a legacy of virtue and love for those who survive me, and the great journey of unity with Christ in eternal worlds beyond.
-          Joy in God and His World
-          I will continue to hold on to the hope and belief in an all-wise, all-beneficent Creator who loves each of us entirely; I will seek to connect with him by following the way of my Master, Christ; and I will daily surrender myself to his leadings and participate in his redemption of the world through the disciplines of prayer and meditation.
-          I will continue to believe that the general moral rules which have been honored by all societies and in all periods of time are rules with which I am inexorably bound by my Creator, and which I have a responsibility to uphold and apply to my own life—to be good, merciful, honest, and just; kind in all circumstances; loving truth in all its forms; pursuing uncommon virtue and wisdom; and respecting the dignity of all other living things. These rules are not to be seen as repressive measures to curb my joy, but rather as necessary boundaries in which to experience and nurture the expansive practice of true joy.
-          I will also retain the commitment I have made to the way of Christ, recognizing that this binds me to an even higher law—the law of love. This love is to be actively expressed in every part of my being. It gives me no place for judgment against others. It requires me to give of myself and my resources cheerfully and sacrificially.
-          I will recognize that everything I have—whether material possessions or personal aptitudes—is given to me by the Creator. I have no place for pride in intellect, for I did not give myself my intellect. I have no place for pride in my skills of writing or speaking, for I did not earn them. All I have done is to hone what was given to me by nature, and thus it is not properly mine. Nor are my material possessions mine; I am merely a steward of God’s bounty. I will hold all things with open hands, using them responsibly, and ready and willing to give them up when necessary.
-          I will love the world that has been given me, recognizing it always as a gift. I will revel in its goodness. I will seek to protect it and to preserve its goodness for future generations. I will regularly immerse myself in natural surroundings as a simple way to remind myself of my kinship with all creation.
-          I will keep in mind that the world is at the same time a hard, bitter, cruel, and tragic place. I will remind myself that most people in most places face lives of extraordinary hardship, and that it is to be expected that I too will one day come upon very hard times. Tragedy is to be expected, and to be borne with as much grace and patience as can be mustered. Hardship, I will remember, is often the best possible school for the cultivation of virtue.
-          Regarding tragedy, which is every parent’s nightmare, I will remember that my children are a trust, not a possession. They are beings in their own right, with wills and characters and powers beyond my control. They must be allowed to choose their own way, and I must keep in mind that they, too, may suffer at the hands of this world’s cruel turns of fate. My role is to protect, to nurture, to teach, to encourage, to love, and to leave everything else in the hands of God.
-          I will strive to develop a sense of gratitude in all things, observing the practice of keeping a regular tally of thanksgivings throughout each day.
-          I will keep, as often as I can think of it, a practice of “continual prayer,” either by focusing my mind on God when in solitude, or by extending silent prayers of goodwill for those immediately around me when in the company of others.
-          I will, on occasion, participate in short or long-term fasts as part of my rule of life, in order to remind myself of the frail and needful nature of my humanity, to experience a sense of solidarity with the poor, to reinforce the awareness that I can be the master of my appetites in all areas of my life, and to direct my desires toward spiritual things.
-          I will never allow myself to feel that prayer or fasting alone releases me from the obligation to be engaged in sacrificial, active help of others.
-          I will consider myself to be a citizen of the world, of humanity, of all nations, and I will not let parochialism, national selfishness, or any such thing blind me to the needs of other nations, to their claims on my help and attention as fellow humans, and to my obligation to extend to them the same respect and understanding as I do to those immediately around me. However, I will also uphold and praise the many good things about my home area and country, and I will seek to preserve those parts that are praiseworthy, to improve those parts that are deficient, and to pass on this great political legacy to future generations, in as much as I am able.
-          I will consider myself especially to be a member of the church—worldwide and trans-historical—as my primary collective identity, and to remember that I am only truly "who I am" in Christ.

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