"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." -- Galatians 5:22-23
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." -- Ephesians 4:2I fail in my Christian walk on the regular. In fact, every day. I do not always treat people the way I wish to be treated. I do not always have a servant's heart. I do not gather with my brothers and sisters at every opportunity to pray and to worship. To be painfully honest, there are times that I hide from the interaction, especially during the holidays for reasons I cannot quite determine. I don't want to do that anymore. I have spent the closing weeks of this year reflecting on these shortcomings and how I can and will do better in the new year. Correction . . . how I need to do better starting right now.
Here is what I think, which I know goes against the prevailing sentiment in my part of the country. I am concerned that next month will usher in a period in our nation during which my children will be less safe, human life will be less valued, and the proud shall use their power to taunt the meek. Many people I respect and love disagree with me on my assessment. I get that, and I always appreciate the opportunity to have civil and informed conversations with friends and family who look at things differently. I usually learn something from these discussions, and learning is one of my favorite things. Mine is but one perspective and I would never presume I'm always right.
However, despite exit polls that showed a clear majority of Christians voted for the incoming administration, I know I'm not alone among followers of Christ in being concerned. Right? But what can I do? What can we do? A lot. This election and its resulting unrest (and whether you are a fan of the incoming president or not, I hope you can agree that we have some unrest right now) has led me to feel even greater conviction to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ.
I believe that the next four years will require men and women of faith, no matter who received their votes, to be bolder than ever in their love and their service and in a call for unity among all people. I'm both invigorated and overwhelmed by the challenge! I have determined that being active in this pursuit must be one of my primary acts in the months that lie ahead (Just behind this resolution in importance for the new year? Getting more than three hours of consecutive sleep at night and actually hanging curtains and/or photographs and/or artwork in my home of six months.).
There are men and women in my life who I have watched put their faith into action for years, by sending kind notes and volunteering with children and feeding the hungry and offering their construction skills and going on mission trips and just sitting with people who need a friend. Their names are running through my head as I type. I can count supporters of Trump and Clinton and "None of the Above" among them, as no political party or campaign holds the claim to good people. They have done so without expectation of recognition and I am inspired time and again by the people they are and the example they set. But I've done too much watching and not enough following of their lead.
So, whether it's my feelings about the election or the way that my family is constantly surrounded in love at our church or how I have read countless stories about people who affect positive change through simple acts of kindness that finally have motivated me to action, I know that I need to do more.
So, in 2017, I plan to do the following when it comes to my spiritual life:
Spend more time with the refugee families who are finding their way to our church family in greater numbers every week. I will tutor the children and sit with their mothers. I will attend the service they hold in their native tongue and worship with them. And I will go beyond my church walls to help the organizations here in Nashville who are welcoming refugee families and helping them acclimate.
Read more with my children about what boys and girls their age experience in different parts of our city and different parts of our world.
Watch and read enough news so that I stay informed but shut it off before I become disheartened or distracted.
Study a different religious leader or scholar every month, from different backgrounds and of different perspectives. Learn from his or her writings and actions. If you have a woman or man you believe I should study, please share with me as I would love your suggestions.
Embrace the congregation-wide effort that our church is making to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. Really value the time I spend in God's Word and discerning what He means for me to learn and do in 2017.
Spend less time on social media and no time on reality television and instead spend more time engaging with actual humans and consistently doing so in ways that take me out of my comfort zone . . . which won't take much.
Attend a worship service at a different congregation in the Nashville area at least every other month, not instead of worshiping with my church family but in addition to that time.
Be consistent in keeping a gratitude journal. I need to remember when I get frustrated or impatient or sad, there are always reasons to be thankful.
Talk more with people with whom I disagree and with whom I allow myself to get annoyed.
Clear the slate of all grudges. Or at least work on doing so.
Pray for our President-elect and other members of his administration, and pray for the candidates who will come forward to over the next four years to offer their ideas and leadership to local, state, and national offices.
Hug people a lot.
Not mention any of these things after today and just do them.
I share these plans not to boast with claims of "look at all I plan to do next year" but for two other important reasons. First, to hold myself accountable. I've written publicly about my plans in other areas of my life as previous years have come to a close and it's helped me greatly. Second, I want to encourage others to walk with me. Will you link arms with me so that we can be the armor for one another and for the rest of our brothers and sisters? Whether or not we share a faith or if you even proclaim a faith at all, I consider us family and I would love to have you beside me. My faith is what is motivating me right now; it may be different for you. I would love to learn from you and your efforts. I would be grateful to have you join with me in any of the ideas I've proposed or if you would allow me to come alongside you in outreach efforts you are contemplating.
Love and kindness will be needed in greater supply and more than ever in the days ahead. Who am I to complain about its absence if I'm not willing to affect the change, however small my part, that I wish to see in our community and the world? So, will you join with me?
I want to imprint the following Scripture on my heart for the new year and then take it from there:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7