Lord, teach us to number our days, that we might set our hearts toward wisdom.
I spent New Years’ Day at my dying father-in-law’s bedside. Mostly he slept. Sometimes he would wake up to ask my husband for help in readjusting his pillow, or about a concern he had about the house. When one of our nephews stopped by, he wanted him to ensure that his electric tools were sold for a good price, and he wanted advice about the stock market.
Even in death we hold onto life, for life is all we know.
Every two hours or so, he’d call my name: “Mariann!” “Right here, Ed,” I’d reply. Then he would ask a question of faith–what was waiting on the other side of death, what crossing over would be like, and how on earth to imagine eternity. “It doesn’t sound very appealing,” he confessed. He wasn’t looking for answers, but assurance that I trusted the mystery of it all, and so could he.
As Ed lay sleeping, I thought about my hopes and intentions for the new year.
Death puts life in perspective.
In my email inbox and on social media, I read other people’s new year’s resolutions, those whose lives and leadership I admire, some emphatically declared that they were not taking on anything new. Life was stressful enough, thank you very much. Nadia Bolz-Weber offered her yearly reminder that “there is no resolution, that if kept, will make you more worthy of love.”1
One Instagram post, however, took me to a place I hadn’t expected. It was from Rich Villodas, a pastor of a large multi-racial church in Queens, NY, and author of several books including The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values that Root Us in the Way of Jesus and Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World–the kind books I’m inclined to buy for titles alone (and, I confess, that I did).
Villodas New Year’s Instagram post read like this:
Resolutions are good, but a Rule of Life is better.
Resolutions are often about goals that require a lot of willpower.
A rule is about submitting to the Spirit empowered rhythms, practices,
and relationships that reorder our hearts and form our wills.
His next post read:
Here are 4 questions to help you build a Rule of Life:
- What are the spiritual disciplines that you need to anchor you in a life with God?
- What are the practices of self-care you need to care for your body and nurture your soul?
- What core relationships do you need in this season of life to support you on your journey?
- What are the gifts, passions and burdens within that God wants you to express for the blessing of others?
There is no mention here of what you and I should do, but rather what we need. The last question wonders what God wants to draw from our life’s gifts, passions, and burdens so as to be a blessing to others. What a concept–that God could use our burdens as a means of blessing.
I’m still working on my answers to these questions, and I wonder what they evoke in you. There is such a generosity and gentleness about them, but there’s also, if we’re honest, a catch. For we may not always be able to give ourselves what we need, or to receive what’s needed from others. What do we do then?
Seared into my memory from our early days of parenting was the time our pediatrician looked at me kindly and said, “You need more rest.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, for in that season, there was little rest to be had. So, too, at other times, when what we need seems impossible to attain. And we must acknowledge that countless people around the world, and in our communities, are not able to have their survival needs met through no fault of their own.
Still there is something to be said for giving voice to our needs in prayer, and to trust, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, that “the Holy Spirit intercedes for with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) Perhaps it’s best to focus on one need, and to seek guidance in prayer and conversation with a trusted few. Moreover, the question of what others need in order to live whole lives might stir our curiosity for new ways of doing what we assume must be done, and inspire us to be persons of solidarity and empathy.
In upcoming reflections, I will return to the questions of faith that many of you have asked me. In responding, my focus will be on the practices of faith that help us to receive from the One who, as the Book of Common Prayer assures us, “is always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”
In the meantime, I wonder, what do you need?