Pastoral Message: January 2018
A new year has begun! I’m always a bit partial to even-numbered years (like 2018). They just feel more symmetrical and balanced than their odd-numbered compatriots. And with the beginning of any new year, there is always a sense of hope—“This year will be a better than the last” or “Time for a fresh start!” Hopefully your January has brought you something to celebrate and something to look forward to in the coming months.
A new year is also a time to reflect on the year just past; and if we are feeling brave, we can look back even farther than just 12 months. For example, a lot has happened in our world in the past decade. Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, highlights some of the incredible technological changes that trace their roots to 2006–2007. For example, in September 2006, Facebook became open to everyone, and in November 2006, Google bought YouTube. By the end of that year, 1 billion people worldwide were officially connected to the Internet. Soon thereafter in 2007 came the emergence of Twitter, the first iPhone, the social justice voice of Change.org, the e-book revolution with Amazon’s Kindle, and the conceptualization of Airbnb. In 10 short years since then, our lives have accelerated and grown both more interconnected and complicated due to these tech innovations. Perhaps that is why a lot of people are starting 2018 feeling out of breath and praying that the New Year gives them a chance to get caught up on things at last.
Reflecting on the year(s) past often leads people to make New Year’s resolutions. But if our minds and spirits are already feeling overwhelmed by the pace of life, I’m not sure that adding things to one’s “To Do” list is advisable. So instead, I want to give you permission not to do some things that you might have been doing in 2017. You have permission not to feel obligated to be caught up in every area of your life, and permission not to believe that you are only successful if you are chronically busy. You have permission not to say “Yes” to at least five things people are asking of you, and permission not to believe a dozen negative things you’ve heard people say.
Perhaps the most important thing I want to offer is to have you consider taking a break each day. Recent scientific studies have compared brain cell activity when exposed to different types of music and moments of silence. By far the healthiest option was silence. Our brains are constantly processing and responding to stimuli, whether it is traffic noise, loud intrusive music, or soothing pleasurable music. But if we can take a break from noise—from stimuli, Smartphone beeps and images, and piped in songs—our brains go into a “default mode.” In effect, they begin sorting out and organizing information already stored in our brains. Those quiet times lead to real self-reflection and new insights, because our brain literally has a moment to think for itself.
I’ve quoted this psalm verse a lot: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Before a new decade and the “latest new thing” forces itself upon you, take 5 minutes today and every day just to be—be quiet, be peaceful, be God’s beloved child. And if the 5 minutes stretch to 10 or 20, it is all good. God literally has all the time in the world for you and me. Shouldn’t we return the favor?