I love reading and have been developing the discipline since 2012 when a group of ladies at my church decided to start a book club. Though the group eventually disbanded, my reading continued. As I read more, I try to push myself into genres that are less comfortable for me. I have found over the years that I struggle with older books for a variety of reasons, but at the same time I love having read the classics. So this year I set out to read A Christmas Carol. I bought a copy which just so happened to come in a collection of Dickens' holiday stories. Who knew there were others?
I did not read them all, but I read The Chimes, which was definitely more challenging to enjoy because I was more unfamiliar with the story than A Christmas Carol. One character stood out, a man who wanted to make sure that all his debts were paid before entering the New Year. Did I say "wanted"? I mean he was piously obsessed with the idea and judged anyone who might not be able to do the same. Convicted, I managed to come to terms with the fact that I have a mortgage that won't be paid off in 2020 and one credit card carrying a balance into the new year.
But another idea struck me, that there may be non-financial areas that I am indebted, and these matters could be tended to before the clock strikes midnight tonight. So here I am, at almost noon on December 31, working through my To Do List.
This year was unprecidented in many ways, none of which I need to rehash here. However, thinking about the last 365 days of my life, I can honestly say that I have seen God move in ways I never expected. My 2020 goal was to give careful thought to my ways from Haggai 1:5. When I chose this focus for 2020, I had no idea what the year had in store. I mean, come on, did any of us? However, I've give a lot of thought to a lot of things because of the significant challenges faced in 2020. Most of my thought has been in how I do things. And from time to time, expecially in some of the earlier times, I thought of how I want to do things (as in, how I want to do things when all of this is over). To date, I’ve given little thought to how I used to do things. In fact, I don't think I would have even begun to think about how I used to do things if it hadn't been for two unrelated people who mentioned the idea to me relatively close together.
In considering past behavior, I’m not advocating that people can’t/don’t change. However, types of changes and reasons for those changes may be insightful. For example, if your youth was filled with nature and exploration, but you no longer participate in these activities, you may learn that you’ve given up on a pastime that helped you relax and stay healthy. Alternatively, you may have developed allergies and decided it was no longer worth the effort to prevent rashes and sneezing. Theses two responses are markedly different. In considering how you used to do things you give yourself the opportunity to measure your changes - for better or worse.
So perhaps, the greatest lesson I've learned this year when it comes to considering my ways is the necessity of a holistic approach when doing so. I cannot just look at how things are. Some seasons are unavoidably challenging (hello, 2020?). I could not have done anything to prevent this year from playing out the way it did globally, though I could make choices to impact the way it played out personally. I don't mean in my health necesarily, for we all know that sometimes a person is careful and still gets sick. Moreso, I mean that I can chose to put my faith in God and seek Him in every situation.
It's funny that the words of Haggai seem more fitting today than when I first read them. There seem no better words to end this year with than the ones with which I began:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands...”Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you...” (Haggai 1:5-11,13 NIV)
Indeed, God is with us. In the temple. On the mountain top. And in the drought. God is with us. Amen.