Happy New Year!
As the last six months have entailed hundreds of hours on zoom calls, I spent the last two weeks away from screens as much as possible. I wanted to join the end of year post crowd and couldn’t bring myself to it—so here is an edition of Rabbit Trails to kick off the new year! I’m hopeful for more scheduled writing this year (at least it’s something I wrote on my goals sheet!).
I’m sharing some memories and some hopes in this one. As always, thanks for reading.
§ In the middle of quarantine, a family friend gifted me the opportunity to spend a morning looking through their late father’s pastoral library to see what might be of interest or aid in my studies. If you’re a book lover, this is the stuff dreams are made of. This man was influential in my teenage years, and someone I respected highly. Getting to spend a morning in his study was a quiet and special time after months with little alone time. I spent hours turning pages from hundreds of mid-twentieth century (and earlier!) works.
I came across a pre-Message paraphrase of the New Testament by JB Phillips in those shelves that I have really enjoyed as a weekly read. Some of you might be familiar with it, but it was new to me.
The church I grew up in held a generation of godly men who impacted my life in countless ways. They modeled the family of God in their lives, and in their deaths. I’ve written about several of them here, here, and here.
§ For the bulk of 2020, our public discourse lamented what freedoms we lost in daily life. The forced stillness at times was maddening. But the sheer volume of time with my family has been priceless. There are hundreds of little moments that have buoyed my heart with gratitude for the gift seeing my children process life without cynicism or skepticism. They have yet to learn to protect themselves from being hurt, and so they love freely. Getting to see this (and be the recipient of it) has brought the resolution between my wife and I that this is the year we talk back to our cynicism and be people of hope. Life beats you up, and through relationships, miscommunications, and hurt you learn to guard yourself in a way that suspect things rather than celebrates them. I’m done with that mess, it’s no way to live.
I can’t think of cynicism without thinking of this quote from Zack Eswine.
§ At the end of last summer, I preached a few messages out of Paul’s pastoral prayers centered around how we respond to life out of who we are. Therefore who the Christian is continually becoming shapes the way we respond to life. I’ve blended some thoughts from those messages here as I’ve continued to mull over the topic this fall.
Time and again, when Paul prays for the churches in the New Testament, he is praying that these Christians grow into maturity, becoming a certain kind of person. It’s the kind of person who engages and responds to the hardships of life with patience, endurance, and joy—because they do not lose sight of the true story they are in, and who they belong to.
Now we are in the new year, and whatever bump the holidays gave us as a break from zoom calls, carpool lines, commutes, packing lunches, working overtime, spending another day alone, or wondering if we’re making the right choice with who we visit and when—we are not in a different situation that we were a months ago. Many are just more resigned to the tiredness.
As there are faces from our church that I have not been able to see in person for months, I have been asking friends on social media how I might pray for them. There has been a consistent thread of overwhelm in my DM’s. I was reminded by a friend this week of Bilbo’s words—that we feel thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread.“ How then do we head into another week, another month, another news cycle, or another quarantine?
We do it a day at a time, by becoming the kind of person who engages and responds to the hardships of life with patience, endurance, and joy—because we do not lose sight of the true story we are in, and who we belong to.
For months we have been asking the question: “What do we do?” while the world is changing around us, and we need to be asking ourselves and each other: “What kind of people do we need to become?”
The picture here is not a hyper-vigilant disciple, but a non-anxious and present-minded follower of Jesus, who has grace for themselves (and others) in the midst of immense pain, suffering, and loss. As these disciples, we are able to have grace for ourselves and others when we put our trust in things that now prove fruitless for the long haul. It is to actively shape our lives with the knowledge that we are called to be a certain type of person who does certain types of things regardless of what the world does around us.
Which starts with an honest look at the kind of person you’re becoming right now.
Since college I’ve come back to a quote by a 20th century monk named Thomas Merton:
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.”
At the turn of the new year, how much of a solid answer do you have about what is standing between who you are and who you want to be? What is between you and the person God is calling you to become?
Do you know what kind of person He is calling you to be?
One of my favorite authors puts it very simply, you are an ongoing process of change until the day you die, and give back the breath God gave you.
Every day you make choices, and those choices change you.
Are you honoring God with those choices or are you simply surviving another day?
You need hope to survive, and I think many people’s hope has been spread over too much bread, and the cynicism of our culture is keeping us thin.
Technology has been a blessing and an all too convenient distraction this last year. We can order our food, deliver anything needed to our house or a friend – and at any point we find reality too hard to bear, we can dive into a new show for as long as it takes to dull the edge of our overwhelm.
Which is in many ways, no rest at all, merely escapism.
It is the formative aspects of life that we need to tend to, with the patience of a gardner working the soil of our hearts. As a Christian in our cultural moment, you are going to have to develop the discipline to treat that which has been sold to you as a savior from your boredom as a tool for your maturity. What I mean is, technology is not neutral, and we have trusted it to deliver us from ourselves and distract us from pain—but that leads to deformation from the image of our Maker, not transformation of our minds. We have to reclaim our use of technology as a tool for our growth in Christ—and stop looking into the glowing rectangle to deliver us from a moment of discomfort, silence, or boredom. It is these moments throughout our days that we need to be able to hear the voice of God. You need to create pockets of silence in your life, not eliminate them.
Perhaps now is the time to audit your app usage, screen time, tv intake, and nominal habits that eat up your attention and your days bite size chunks at a time. I don’t think the issue is that we are binging shows for hours on end during the workday. I think the issue is that we give the quiet moments of our lives to swiping screens for limited connection and dopamine hits—all of which form us into a certain kind of person because they are repetitive habits. These distractions feed you false stories of the good life, not the true story that you are a part of.
Christian, you need to be reminded—on repeat—who you belong to when your hope is thin.
Then remind others.
What if you created pockets of silence in your life instead of drowning them all out?
This is my year, and you’re welcome to join: Talking back to cynicism and fighting to feed hope in silence each day.
It is not an issue of who you will be, it is an issue of who you are becoming right now.
§ Things I came across in 2020 that I really enjoyed:
- Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs. The last four pages have haunted and helped me for months. We engage with voices from the past (break bread with them) and then have to sort ourselves in light of their ideas. In doing this, we become people of thicker character who respect the past by owning their part in the present and near future. It’s a great read.
- The Screen Time Widget on your IPhone. #9 on this list. Real time accountability every time you open your phone. Try it for a week.
- Focus@Will. It’s a subscription based pomodoro timer meets customizable music app. Since college I’ve listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to write papers. This has melded a few things into one helpful time blocking work app.
- Gentle & Lowly AUDIOBOOK by Dane Ortlund. Listen, if you don’t know about this book – buy it. Once you read it, then listen to it as read by the author. This book is one you buy and re-read yearly. Plus, the audio book is ~$10 as I type this. Read the book, also listen to it.
§ If you’re still reading this, we’re mid-year in our TVCI programs. This means that I get to re-read a few books each year – and one that I am discussing with friends this next month is a book I quoted earlier in this post. It’s on my short list of important hurt-so-good-make-you-think-about-your-life books, and you should give it a shot. It’s Who God Says You Are by Klyne Snodgrass. I’ve posted a bunch of quotes from him here and other places.
Here’s the table of contents:
Happy New Year, friends! We have much to be thankful for, and may your hope deepen as you look to Jesus.