You may have noticed the cultural trend away from resolutions – 25% of people who make resolutions break them within a week – and to choosing a guiding word instead, something like “Love” or “Focus” or “Courage.”
For those who follow Jesus, our word ought always to be “Jesus,” the name of our Beloved continually on our minds and hearts and whispers.
But there are many ways to focus on Jesus, many ways in which Jesus wants to grow us, and many, many words from which to choose.
A few years ago I chose “endurance,” as in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Except that running is not my thing, and the whole idea of endurance deflates me. Endurance sounds like agony, hard work, the opposite of joy and fun and life.
Early 2014 I attended Donald Miller‘s Storyline conference (highly recommend!). I was already using his daily planner and each day I would write “LOVE!” on that planner. Except I only used the planner when I was in the office (four days/week), and then I was out of the country for two months, and during the fall I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t resume the practice (but will – it is January, after all). So even “love” wasn’t the best guiding word for me as it didn’t inspire me as it should.
So this year, what’s the word? It’s a phrase, actually:
“Put yourself in the way of beauty.”
It comes from the movie version of the book, Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed walks out of her broken-to-bits life and into the wilderness, walking herself into the woman her mother raised her to be. I read the book when it first came out (much preferred it to the movie version) and it almost convinced me I’d like to backpack, to take on a quest of sorts. When Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl voice-over’d this sentence it jabbed me in the best way. I remembered reading it, was sad to have forgotten it, as it’s such great advice. It’s advice my mom, my everyday model of grace and beauty, might have spoken to me.
But first let’s define beauty. I actually really like this definition from Dictionary.com:
“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”
I expected something more superficial, as so much of beauty in American culture is just that, surface-y and fake, and absolutely not what I’m going for.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
God created and creates and everything God has made is good, beautiful. Even when life gets all wonky, God works His beautiful purpose in our lives. We just don’t always see or appreciate God at work – hence my ongoing search for miracles in the mundane. (Hah! I just mistyped that “mundance” and I kinda like it – let’s do a little boogie!).
God surrounds Himself with beauty – “Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6) – and His people who share Truth are also beautiful – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).
Then there’s 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” This one reminds me of our well-meaning Sunday school teacher who used it to beat up her 7th grade girls’ small group; um, excuse me, but what 7th grade girl isn’t more than a little bit concerned about outward appearance? Yes, focus on inner beauty (as I plan to), but also teach the arguably most awkward humans on the planet how to do their hair and dress to their body type and love the physical shell God gave them. Be good stewards of the inside and out of God’s gifts.
One more Scripture, Philippians 4:8 uses a synonym for beauty – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
So what might putting myself in the way of beauty look like on a day-to-day basis?
Getting up early or sleeping in. Naps are definitely beautiful!
Time with God in His Word
Smile, laugh, enjoy
Solitude and relationships in a healthy rhythm
Gym time and walks with friends and dogs
Surrounding myself with good stories and uplifting people
Meaningful work and play projects that motivate and inspire me
Concerning myself less with what others think and more with my own well-being
Creating experiences and making memories, not collecting stuff
Decluttering home and life so the beautiful stands out
And so much more!
As I’ve been pondering this phrase for a couple of weeks, it has already prompted different behavior, giving me hope that this word will stick in all the right ways. After Christmas we spent a few days with Guy’s parents in southern Oregon. High on our kids’ priority list: snow play. In two cars we drove to a nearby mountain and found easy parking. We tumbled out – dog, too – and threw a few snowballs, took a few pictures, and tossed our freezing-cold selves back in the vehicles, all in less than fifteen minutes. I started flipping through the pictures I’d taken and hardly noticed when the rest of the gang hopped back out again. A natural spectator, it would’ve been easy for me to wait in the car. Instead I decided to put myself in the way of beauty, to open the car door, step in the snow, walk up the hill, and see what God had done. Yes, it was a decision, just like staying put would have been, but this decision I made for beauty.
Look what I found:
A solitary pop of color
Evidence of God’s love in a sunshine heart
“Survive Rough Times”
It hasn’t melted yet…
I also found my family – Guy, boys, my beautiful mom and my nephew, our dog – and together we played and laughed and enjoyed the beauty. A SoCal girl for most of my life, snow has been an occasion, not a regularity, and I really do prefer moderate temperatures. But I am glad I got out of the car to put myself in the way of beauty.
Here’s to a Beautiful New Year!