For the past two years, I’ve relied on the wisdom in this quote as I’ve faced the coming new year:
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” — Henry Stanley Haskins
For me, those New Year’s Days were like standing at the bottom of a huge, dark mountain, looking up, wondering how on earth I would climb it.
Does 2020 look like a dark mountain to you? Yes? Or maybe not. Maybe things are going pretty well, and your worries are minor. Either way, there is a temptation to let our circumstances and our emotions steer us – whether we’re despairing, coasting along on easy ground, or somewhere in between.
The problem with that is … our emotions are just a symptom of what’s in our minds. As with physical pain, it’s very important to acknowledge and pay attention to our emotions to figure out and deal with what’s going on in our minds. But emotions don’t determine truth. They often don’t even reflect truth. Relying on our emotions to steer us, letting our feelings bob us along on the waves, whether calm or menacing, is unwise. It will eventually land us in deep water. We need something more steady and reliable.
But, if we don’t rely on our circumstances or our emotions to guide us, what’s the alternative?
“What lies within.”
What lies deep within you?
You were born with the gift of an immortal soul. You’re developing it right now (into light or darkness).
I confess I’ve never fully embraced New Year’s resolutions. I suspect that a predetermined date on a calendar that marks a new beginning … another chance … just isn’t enough to motivate most of us to lasting change. It would be great if it did! We start our diet with high hopes, but get derailed by eating out, desserts, pizza, and chai lattes (me) – because now it’s January 2nd, and food is still good. 😀 It takes something more to let go of long-held habits and move toward goals, whether it’s weight loss, finally cutting out smoking, spending less time on social media, etc.
So how do we change our habits? Not by our circumstances (what lies behind and before) or by our emotions (what lies on the surface), but by transforming our minds. What lies within.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2
What we choose to do with our minds is so important. And yet we often just go with the flow, influenced by those around us, driven by emotion and circumstance, following our culture, taking the easy way, failing to exercise any intentionality in this regard. We bob along like a raft in an amusement park water ride, no control, no steering, no oars, no feet on the ground.
I’ve started reading “Life Without Lack,” by Dallas Willard, a brilliant Christian philosopher who taught at USC for 48 years. Willard talks about how our minds are the key to our lives. For example, “if I am an African bushman making bows and arrows to shoot birds, it is through my mind that I become knowledgeable about things like shafts of wood and points of stone, birds, strings and bows, and so forth. If I do not make the choice to use my mind to understand and interact with them, then all of this remains shut away from me.” And I think about how expert musicians master the seemingly impossible by putting their minds to work to learn about and practice their instrument. And expertise in our trade or profession or sport begins with the decision to apply our minds to them. Good cooking, parenting, fitness, use of technology, painting, singing, photography, helping others, video games, anything …. We may have natural talent or interest, but we don’t access or understand or master these things unless we make the decision to regularly apply our minds to them and practice them. What could we open our minds to this coming year that we’ve previously shut off?
And so, as I look to help my loved ones, eat for good health, and learn how to capture beauty through photography in 2020, I can only do those things by focusing my mind and heart on them, learning from trustworthy resources, and putting things into practice daily.
Willard says, “We grow in our knowledge of God in the same way. We bring the reality of God into our lives by making contact with him through our minds, and our actions are based on the understanding that results from the fullness of that contact. There is nothing mysterious here. This is why the mind, and what we turn our minds to, is the key to our lives.”
My greatest desire for 2020 is to pursue a deeper knowledge and understanding of God and His ways. I strongly believe this is the key to everything else that matters, the things that will last.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”Matthew 6:33
What lies within you?
The door to filling your soul is your mind.
You choose what you fill it with. No one else.
You may not be able to choose all of your circumstances this year, but you can choose who you become through your circumstances.
You don’t have to bob along without oars.
Let me pass along some concrete advice on using your mind to fill your soul with the best things … on being proactive instead of passive. My daughter and I have been reading “Rediscover Jesus,” by Matthew Kelly. Honestly, this book randomly arrived in the mail about 6 weeks ago and I have no idea why! But I have found it to be an excellent book, filled with so much concise, practical Biblical truth. And so I recommend Kelly’s four practical daily ways for busy people to seek God:
1. Read the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – (over and over again) every day for 15 minutes. Choose a routine time and place and make it a habit. Allow the life and teachings of Jesus to sink their roots deep into your life. Put yourself in the scenes. Figure out how the events apply to your life right now. Listen for what Jesus thinks is important vs. what others think is important. I started doing this a few months ago, and so I was happy to see that Kelly also recommends it. I’ve been startled, challenged, and brought to tears by the reality of God living as a human – the choices He made, the words He said, the emotions He felt.
2. Try using this Prayer Process daily as a guide to praying effective prayers:
Gratitude – Thank God in a personal dialogue for whatever you’re most thankful for today.
Awareness – Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were and were not the best version of yourself.
Significant Moments – Identify something you experienced today and explore what God might be trying to say to you through that event or person.
Peace — Ask God to forgive you for any wrongs you may have committed and fill you with a deep, abiding peace.
Freedom – Speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life to experience the freedom to be your best self.
Others — Pray for the people on your mind.
Finish with the Lord’s Prayer.
3. Deny yourself. Our ability to succeed at most things in life can be measured by our ability and willingness to delay gratification. Self-denial has an incredible impact on a human being. It refines the soul, sharpens the senses, strengthens the will, and tempers our desires. (“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23)
4. Practice spontaneous prayer. Talk to Jesus about your day as events are unfolding.
So, what about 2020? New year. New decade even. Maybe you’ll look back next December and say, “2020 was good to me!” or “Good riddance, 2020 – don’t let the door hit ya on the way out! 2021 will be better!”
Or maybe you’ll be able to look back and say, “Thank You, God, for all You have done in me this year. Through both the difficult and the beautiful, You have helped me to strengthen what lies within. I see differences in how I think and respond. I know You and I understand Truth better. And I am so grateful!”
And somehow, the dark, menacing mountain of the next year dissolves.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”