Undistracted and Unoffended
It's the New Year, and if you haven't already, I'm sure you're about to be asked about your resolutions for 2024. It's not a bad thing, it's just a cultural thing. It's part of ringing in the next year. We set goals for things we want to do or stop doing.
I'm a go-getter, so goals are my natural language. Knowing this, it should be no surprise to hear I used to make a list full of resolutions. No sugar, more water, prep for a half marathon, read more, etc. You get the idea. Yet, even though I enjoy goals and they are motivating for me, I'd find myself two or three weeks in and I might still be making some progress on one or two, slight progress on the sugar one, but for sure one of the goals had already been nixed. In sharpie. Probably with the words "That was a dumb one anyway" coming out of my mouth, justifying my action.
How did so much ambition and good intention go south ...BEFORE FEBRUARY?!!
Maybe you've seen a similar pattern in your own life. It's not that we don't want to change or grow, and it's not that the goals aren't "SMART" enough - you know, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely.
Then again, maybe you find great success with your goals this time of year. For those of us who struggle, I'd like to shed some light on an alternative approach. It's not necessarily easier - change never is, but because it starts with reframing our perspective and thought-life, I've found immense growth in this practice.
What if I were to tell you instead of making goals and resolutions, you simply take one or two weeks and choose one word. If faith guides you like it does me, I'd encourage you to pray about what this one word should be for you this year.
In previous years, I've grown in areas of "authenticity" and been led in ways I never expected through "open" then "no." This last year, my word was "undistracted" but it grew to something more, much much more, something which inspired these tulips to be placed by my front door...
The word "undistracted" came out of need. By the end of 2022, I could see myself starting to get distracted by little things - my attention and my joy being threatened by lesser things. As 2023 began, I committed to living undistracted, but I really didn't know how. I knew I was not going to let little things take any of the long-awaited joy God had appointed for me this year especially as it was the year of mine and Will's wedding.
I soon learned living undistracted is choosing to put on the armor of God every day. As Paul commands us in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:11-13
To put on the whole armor of God, we need all seven pieces, starting with:
The belt of truth. This is central, covering our core, allowing truth to be our focus and God's Word to be our anchor. In the same way a wearing a belt holds our clothes in place so our hands are free to attend to other needs, the belt of truth safeguards our needs so we can help carry the burdens of those around us.
The breastplate of righteousness is most notable for what it covers - our hearts. Our most tender emotions of joy and pain are protected. Sure, we may feel the pressure when wounded by another, but as we process the pain with the truth of God's word, we are protected by God's righteousness so we do not react out of hurt but respond in love.
Our shoes are a gospel of peace, so everywhere we go, we bring God's peace. Now, we know making peace is not always peaceful - hardship is the pathway to peace, but we are called to work towards unity with one another and live in peace with one another so far as it depends on us.
Faith is our shield. A pastor of mine once explained it this way: in ancient times, soldiers would bring their shields together to create a wall of defense. As we pray with and for one another, our faith is strengthened and our shields come together to do more than they could ever do alone. We cannot live an undistracted life alone. We need each other. We need the support of Christ-centered community if we are going to be victorious in these battles.
For our head, we wear a helmet of salvation, because though our souls have been saved, our minds need to be renewed daily. Our thoughts can take us down dangerous paths if we do not take these thoughts captive and surrender these to the Holy Spirit.
It's not enough to just take our thoughts captive, we must then replace them with truth, so we need the sword of the Spirit which is God's Word. Distraction is often accompanied with worry because when a thought enters our mind, it's up to us whether we take a higher perspective and meditate on truth or allow the emotion to drive the thought into a downward spiral. The sword of the Spirit is our weapon against distraction.
Choosing to live undistracted is choosing to enter into the battle, into the world of distraction, and stand firm, stand resolute, stand focused - stand not unaware of but undistracted by the tactics of the enemy.
I would need this armor of protection because I realized one of the most deadly arrows of distraction the enemy uses is offense. Feeling offended leads to feeling hurt ...and angry towards the one who inflicted the wound. As we rehearse the anger in our thoughts, bitterness and resentment grows. We'll find we even like being angry (it sounds awful, I know, but it's true) because it makes us feel morally superior to the other who inflicted the pain. We feel justified in our anger.
And that's the problem:
We are never justified in our anger, for we are unable to hold righteous anger. Only God is righteous in His anger. We are not all-knowing or all-seeing, which are required for righteous anger.
As I walked through this journey, inspired to live unoffended, I realized it's a commitment of extending radical grace, and because grace is clothed in forgiveness, it's a commitment of extending forgiveness.
But, how do we forgive when they don't deserve to be forgiven? A question I've asked myself. I see now that's precisely what forgiveness is - an altruistic gift - an undeserved gift we extend because we have been given the undeserved gift of forgiveness on the cross.
And, still, how do we forgive the offense we cannot forget? We must remember, forgiveness and forgetting are two different things entirely. We will not be able to forgive what we cannot remember. For this reason, I've learned as I choose to surrender my thoughts and my expectations of how I believe others should behave, the grace to forgive the person who hurt me comes. It comes with surrender, not with forgetfulness.
Then, when the painful thoughts resurface because they do, I choose to remember, "I have surrendered these to the Lord and I will hold fast to forgiveness for this person."
Without a moment's notice, a familiar hymn then begins to play in my mind. It goes like this:
All to Jesus I surrender All to Him I freely give I will ever love and trust Him In His presence daily live I surrender all I surrender all All to Thee My blessed Savior I surrender all All to Jesus I surrender Make me, Savior, wholly Thine Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit Truly knowing that Thou art mine I surrender all I surrender all All to Thee My blessed Savior I surrender all...
And, now, you'll notice, I am not in a place of worry. I am not in a place of offense or distraction. I am in a place of worship. I am standing firm in the armor of God, protected by His love for me and unoffended - no longer imprisoned by the chains of judgement, resentment, grudges and unforgiveness. No longer seeking approval of another. I am free and I am loved and...
I am free to love.
It's a battle worth fighting...
time, my friend.
Which is why, like I was saying, these tulips adorn the entry way of my home. I once witnessed the delicate petals of tulips withstand a tumultuous hailstorm. I was shocked to see these flowers still standing tall. This, my friend, is what we are called to do. Stand firm and stand tall in the midst of the storms around us. By God's grace and equipped with His armor, clothed in His power and His righteousness, we will.
I share all this in hopes it will inspire and encourage you. Goals are good, but growth is what we are seeking. What is going to help you grow this year? Consider leaning into one word. Even if you've never prayed before or you feel a little out of practice with it, lean into it with prayer. It doesn't have to be fancy, just humbly say,
"Father God, my heart is to grow this year. I don't want 2024 to come and go and still be the same. I want to be closer to You and in doing so, more like You. Would you show me Your heart for me this year through one word and then help me to be mindful and reflective of how You are growing me through this?"
God's Word says,
When a believing person prays, great things happen. - James 5:16
Coming to God in prayer is a simple but powerful way of saying, "God, I don't know what tomorrow holds, but You do. I'm not in control, You are, and I'm trusting You."
I'm excited for what is to come - what God has store for both of us this year.
May we find strength in prayer and relationship with Him. May He renew our joy and peace as He is given His rightful place as the first priority in our lives. May we find true rest as we trust His goodness in all things.
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
I love hearing from you, so go ahead. Leave a comment. Be brave. Maybe your comment will speak life into someone else!
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