A Horror Story I Heard in 2017 & A Hope for 2018

I heard a horror story recently. It was about a little girl getting tucked in at night. Her dad would lean in, pull the covers over her and ask, “What did you do today to earn your keep?” I know… gasp. In other words, what did you do today, young child, to prove your worth? In what ways did you show others you’re good enough to be in the room? That you’re important? That you belong? What did you muster up today, authentic or not, to prove yourself? This was the last message this little girl received each night before she closed her eyes to sleep… I told you it was a horror story. But if we’re honest, I think we fall prey to this message often, and it can crush us.

It’s interesting to think about how I reflect on things I’ve done. If I teach a lesson, present an idea, complete a task, organize an event, or simply show up at a party, I typically wonder how other people felt it went. How’d I do? My first thought is rarely about if I wholeheartedly enjoyed or believed in what I was doing. I wish I was quicker to hang my hat there. Proving ourselves and showing what we’ve got, how we earn our keep, is deeply engrained somewhere in all of us.

Sadly, working to “earn our keep” confuses our belonging for how we’re performing. How we’re doing, based on the applause (or lack thereof) from other people. When we’re always fighting to “earn our keep,” we’re probably likely to compromise who we really are. After all, we’re really just wondering what other people think of how we’ve done, what we can offer, and if we’re worth believing in or caring about. It makes life one big production. What a vicious cycle.

To a degree I understand why. We’re smackdab in the toddler stages of social media. People are releasing articles, tweeting meaningful words, building companies, establishing themselves globally, and competing nonstop. There seems to be a longing in most people to hang at the top, be successful, and contribute something to the world. It’s largely how society operates. I totally get it.

The other day my wife asked me to answer a question she was thinking about in her Beth Moore bible study. It was somewhere along the lines of, “What are your deepest longings? What in your life has been desired but unfulfilled?” I thought for a moment and wrestled with a little frustration and confusion. I wasn’t totally sure what the question even meant, but it reminded me of some of the goals I had written for 2018. You know how the New Year motivates people for a brief time to get fit and change the world.

Looking ahead to the start of a brand new year, I couldn’t help but think about the big picture, the mountaintop, the reaching of my biggest and most heartfelt goals. I want to write books, produce work that is meaningful and well-respected by many, and be a world-changer. Then there’s the smaller stuff: invest in bitcoin (or litecoin, or whatever will make me a million dollars quicker), save money more effectively, and start working towards a master’s degree. You know, all the usual stuff 25-year olds think about on a daily basis. It forced me to take some of these ideas deeper, to the root. Somewhere down there is the desire to be known and seen. Admired, looked up to, accomplished.

These goals and dreams are not bad by any means. But if I am banking on them to feel like I’ve succeeded or mattered in this upcoming year, let alone in this life, I’ll miss the whole point. I’ll white-knuckle my way to a place of always wanting more and never arriving. My wife’s answer has been ringing in my ears ever since she said it.

“I want to really love others. In a way that makes them feel known and seen. Especially our future kids. I want to be an awesome mom, one who helps her kids know they are loved and supported and secure in every situation.”

Now THAT is something to pursue, something to get out of bed for, and to desire deeply. And now I would like to pause for several minutes to weep and praise God for the woman I get to sleep next to each night.

Now is it wrong to dream and have goals? Of course not. I feel inspired, led, and gifted with words and ideas. I write stuff down all the time and dream big. But if there’s one thing I’m learning it’s this: we don’t jump from the ground to the top of the mountain in a day. Nobody does. If our goal is always the end of the road and the top of the mountain, we will just keep creating new checklists. We’ll go from one mountain to the next. We will never feel like we’ve arrived. I think the beginning of a new year is a great time to be reminded to slow down, simplify, and remember what is important.

Just as quickly as 2017 came and went, here comes the New Year… 2018. I have a list of books I want to read, outlines of things I want to write, a gym membership to shake the dust off of, and money I want to save. But I also have each day, each moment. I don’t want to miss the climb because I’m just waiting for the mountaintop. I think I just ripped of some Miley Cyrus lyrics and I am fine with it.

In 2018 I want to dream big but live small. This means I still write down my visions and lofty goals and ideas. I’m still going to run after them, but I’m going to stay on ground level. This means serving my wife by scooping the litter box more frequently… because for some reason our cat produces the waste of 5 adult humans in one day. It means drinking more water. It means praying God will let me see the gold in just one person each day. It means being willing to roll up my sleeves and serve. Caring deeply for my students. Not taking a second off. Looking outward, offering to help, cleaning the dishes, reading more, and getting better sleep.

You know who the world changers are? People who answer that question like my wife did. People who see their daily bread as a mountain top experience in itself. People who don’t waste days making big plans yet miss what’s right in front of them. People who count their every breath a gift. It makes me think of some simple, yet world-changing and profound words Jesus said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34–35

Exhale. Now that sounds like an invitation worth accepting. In a quick, busy, high-achieving world, I wonder if we can truly find all we need if we live in the space of loving with no bounds, loving without keeping score, and loving with the well-being of others in mind. Love, in a world of achievement and earning your keep, may appear small, yet produce change that lasts. Authentic love, though it does not look out for self, may actually produce longstanding peace, joy, and growth we wish to see in the world. It may land us right where we want to be.

Love.

The most powerful force.

Love will allow our hearts to know truth.

Love will enable our neighbors to see peace. It will insist we serve locally, especially when globally we see chaos.

Love will not ask us to evaluate our worth; it will remind us we’re already accepted and free to just be.

Love will make room for the world to see God.

All that is important, meaningful, and worth pursuing might just be found living near to the words of Jesus calling us towards selfless love. In that place, we won’t be wondering if we’ve measured up at the end of each day; we’ll be reflecting on how we loved one another.

Love will make us feel kept, as God intends for the world to experience peace beyond our understanding. Love will not have us wondering who our neighbors are, how we can get to the “top,” or how we can earn our worth. We already have it, and love will allow us room to see it, feel it, and know it. Let’s live there in 2018.

Shalom.

Happy New Year!