I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions.
To me, they mostly set you up for failure, disappointment, and inevitable guilt, which is not my favorite way to start a new year. As a result, I actively try to avoid them. In all humility, I have gotten pretty stinkin’ good at doing so.
Two years ago, however, I made a New Year’s resolution that I have actually kept. Don’t ask me why I did this; it was 2018, a different time altogether. My 2018 resolution has especially served me well this year, during these past months of pandemic. It’s an incredible life hack that I’d love to share with you. Prepare yourself for a brilliant revelation:
For the past two years, I have only…
in my planner…
I know what you’re thinking: “How can one person be so wise? How can one decision be so revolutionary?”
Just kidding – I’m well aware of the anticlimactic nature of this resolution. But as lame as it sounds, it has actually been incredibly helpful.
Perhaps it’s just my Enneagram 3-ness, but nothing on Earth gives me such a strong hit of dopamine as crossing something off my to-do list. Ah, the sweet thrill of a check mark! On the flip side, leaving something undone or “canceled” is about the worst thing for my productivity and overall “vibe.” For me, writing in pen meant those things HAD to happen or else my whole planner would be ruined. And frankly, people are very flaky and cancel plans a LOT, which leads to a very ugly planner. (Yes, I know I have a problem. That’s why I swapped to pencil, ok!?)
Life is meant to be lived, not simply “checked off.” So, on New Year’s 2018… I decided… to write… in pencil.
Writing in pencil helped me hold my “plans” more loosely. It helped me not care if my plans changed.
Writing in pencil has indeed been helpful the past two years, but it has never been so helpful as the past two months.
Nearly everything that I wrote in my 2020 calendar needed to be erased. My husband’s hard-earned seminary graduation ceremony, tickets to Jerry Seinfeld, a bucket-list concert (Juanes, anyone? No? Just me?), our nephew’s play, a mission trip to the Bahamas, several friends’ weddings… want me to keep going? I can. I bet you can too.
Erasing this stuff was HARD. But it had to happen.
When the quarantine first began, I tried simply crossing through these events so that I could still remember what was “supposed” to happen each day. But that hurt. I’d open up my planner to see what I needed to do for the day and my stomach would drop, thinking of what we were missing.
Finally, about a month into quarantine, I whooped out the big guns:
This VERY LARGE eraser has been with me over a decade, starting in my undergraduate years, throughout graduate school, and now in “adulthood.” But 2020 has been its time to shine. It has erased more these past two months than in the past ten years combined.
Just crossing things off in my planner kept me hanging on to how life was “supposed” to go. It kept me clinging to what life “used” to be rather than what it is now. Because whether we like it or not, this is our reality. It’s time we embrace it and appreciate it for what it is.
There is severe loss, grief, and hardship in this season. As there should be, given the circumstances. But if we keep looking at those former penciled-in plans, that’s all we will ever see.
By taking my big eraser and making a clean sweep of it all, it released me from holding on to what “had been” or was “supposed to be” and allowed me to start living in the now. It allowed me to make new plans and set new goals.
Most of those new plans and goals aren’t as exciting. On any given day, some of those goals are simply:
Go on a walk.
Call your people.
But these plans are important.
Looking ahead to the next couple of months, we have no clue what lies ahead for our “reality.” Will the virus peak again? Will we have to go back into quarantine in our homes? Will our loved ones, or even ourselves, get sick? Will life return to “normal” ever again?
We will need to keep writing our plans in pencil for a while. But even if once upon a time we wrote them in ink, our plans were never definite in the first place.
Writing in pencil isn’t just a good practice for COVID-19. It’s a good practice for life, especially as a child of God.
James 4:13-17 talks about this:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
In this season of life, it feels like we don’t have control of anything. Well, here’s some breaking news for you: we never have. And this is GOOD news!
We can make plans – which is good and healthy and wise – but those plans coming to pass is never fully up to us. Not even the next breath we take is up to us.
Since you began reading this article, you have inhaled and exhaled approximately 48 times. You probably haven’t even noticed it. Yet in order for us to breathe, so. many. things. have to happen internally that we have absolutely no control over. God designed us. It’s His breath in our lungs. He gives us each breath, each day of life, as a gift. We are not guaranteed anything, other than God’s presence and love. And that’s really all we need, because in Him we have everything.
Somehow, we are convinced that we are in control of our lives and what happens to us. But praise God this isn’t true! I am certain our lives would be a lot messier if everything was up to us.
To think that we are in control of our lives is a form of arrogance. Arrogance is pride; pride is a sin. Our lives are not based on the success of what we have planned. Maybe those plans weren’t the best to begin with. Maybe that really big eraser is a blessing after all.
James challenges his readers’ assumption that the world is predictable and controllable. COVID-19 has done this for us as well. COVID has been ugly, but praise God, holiness can come from ugliness.
In fact, holiness often comes out of ugliness. Jesus’ death on the cross was brutal and ugly… but it was the holiest thing this planet has ever seen.
Our passage in James ends with verse 17 – “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” God has good for us to do in this season. What is it for you? What good does He have for you today? This week?
Every moment, no matter how it may look on the surface, is created by God. Whereas the world operates out of fear of lack and abandonment, those of us in friendship with God should know that He provides abundantly in every season.
One of my favorite proverbs is Proverbs 16:9 –
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
That’s what James is talking about here. Make your plans – sure. Start on your journey to pursue them. But it’s God who guides your every step, making each one possible in the first place.
So, go ahead – make some plans for these next months. Make some plans for today. But write them in pencil. Because WHEN (not if) they change, you don’t want to miss the good that God has in store.
God is true to His word; He will establish your steps. Let Him. Get out your eraser and make space for God’s plans and God’s good in your life.
A well-known saying (often spotted at Hobby Lobby) is “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow.” It’s cheesy, but it is absolutely true. It’s all we need to know. Erase in peace, knowing it is God who holds your tomorrow.
Today’s guest writer is Elizabeth Rogers. Elizabeth is the Connections Pastor at Classic City Church in Athens, GA. Passionate about the Spanish culture and language, Elizabeth served for three years with an international missions organization in Spain. While there, she hiked the Camino de Santiago three times! She loves adventuring with her husband, group fitness classes, and morning quiet times outside with a good cup (or two or three) of coffee. Elizabeth currently resides in Athens, GA with her handsome goof of a husband, Josh. You can connect with Elizabeth via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.