I don’t think much surprises [Jesus]: this is how we make important changes—barely, poorly, slowly. And still, he raises his fist in triumph.
Anne Lamott [Plan B]
After dinner with some chums over Christmas, our friend Karen asked us what word would describe our year, what word best summed up 2014?
My official ‘word’ for 2014 was ‘Body’ and I will probably continue to collect some thoughts and perspectives on that word here. But my answer, over tea and Matchmakers (thanks Pam), was survival.
It’s not a great word, but it has it’s place. Some seasons are survival seasons: having a newborn, starting a new job, illness, unexpected change. I have learnt to be gentle with myself in this season, and there’s a lot of grace in messiness isn’t there?
There is great solidarity in the friendships we form in this season. There is healing when we share our tired, overwhelmed selves with others. (And even greater healing when we “get it” that this is how we can show up for God, too.).
The survival season seems so authentic to me and it has shaped my understanding of faith and friendship and myself. I even wrote a piece last year called “I offer you my mess”. I am wary of advice about how to ‘thrive’ instead, wary of ‘how-to’s’ and prescriptive life advice.
I have been wary of my own self as the word Discipline started rattling around my head as a contender for ‘Word for the Year’.
Discipline. Ugh. I hate that word.
My friend and mentor Espero chose Adventure . Can’t 2015 be my year of Adventure too?
I have reflected and read and paid attention this month, as I like to do in January. Adventure isn’t shouting “Pick me!”. (I am so grateful for Espero paving the way, giving hope to those of us not there yet).
Focusing on the word ‘Body’ last year I realised how hard it is for me to make certain changes. I want to blame it on Survival Season. But exploring the word last year made me realise that, for my particular body, food is really important and exercise is currently lacking. I don’t think I can change those things without discipline.
I hate the word discipline but as I thought about my body, and then the rest of life, I realised I am craving it… insomuch as you can crave something that is counter-intuitive to you! My life, my home, my body… probably my kids… are craving it.
But I hate the word discipline, so I chose the word Rhythm.
Rhythm: it’s a lot about discipline, it’s a bit about limits, it’s very much about habits.
It’s about rituals.
It’s about challenging my inclinations, sometimes. Wendy commented on my December Body post to say that she was running through Advent (!), choosing to do this. She said: “Running every day challenges the inclination to hibernation and sloth at this time of year.” There is a goodness, and rest, in hibernation that I don’t want to ditch, but this idea of challenging my inclinations has stayed with me.
My youngest is 2 already, but I default into ‘newborn’ mode whenever I can: grab a little longer in bed, grocery shop without a plan, wake up and just let the day happen to me. I don’t make good choices in this mode, I don’t make room for the things I love, and need. I am craving rhythm – not a solid routine, but definitely a predictable rhythm.
A rhythm of doing the same things at the same time, a rhythm that protects us from being ruled by ‘urgent’, a rhythm that includes good food and walking outside, a rhythm that builds time for both work and renewal into my days.
I cling to this idea of myself as a free spirit. I understand what that looked like in the past, travelling the world, waking up in a hippy commune in South African hills. What does that look like as a mother who also teaches part time? I can’t wake up and wander through my day. There is not much about my life that is slow or quiet but I need those things. And I don’t think I can get them without some discipline.
I am realising that discipline is probably the path to a lot of freedom for me. Anne Lamott thinks so. Anne Lamott who honours the mess, who honours our most feeble of changes and who taught me how to be militantly on my own side … also practices and advocates for a life of discipline.
So I’m looking for a daily rhythm in 2015. My changes will be slow, I’m sure. Perhaps I can coin the phrase “messy discipline”? I am starting with a few small things.
– I went to see a nutritionist. She was realistic and fun. She ‘tweaked’ my current eating habits in a way that fits with this busy season and appeals to my tastes. She included my desire for ritual. There will be cocoa with cinnamon at bedtime.
– I am respecting Tomorrow. This means taking better care of my evenings.
– I am following Ann Voskamp’s advice to light a candle in the morning to remember that I am the light that is put on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house.
– I am looking in our toothpaste stained IKEA mirror and facing the reality of my own limitations and of my family’s needs. I am never going to wake up ready to power and multi-task the way through my day. I am not in South African hills and I need a plan.
– Chris and I have tried to ‘Go with the flow’ with regards our evenings and weekends. We have finally accepted we need to schedule predictable ‘time off’. My girls don’t expect me to go anywhere without them, apart from work. Even though daddy usually does it better they are in a “mummy-do-it” rut. It’s frustrating for him and drains the last drop of introvert-energy from me. We are scheduling times I walk out the back door, so the master-story-teller can operate in peace.
– I am challenging my inclinations and doing things I don’t feel like. Primarily for me this means getting out of bed early, it means going to church and it means going for a walk. Good things that I just don’t feel ‘inclined’ to do!
In all of this I want to take pleasure in, and also responsibility for, my own personality type.
“Do you know your Myers-Briggs profile?” a friend asked me over sushi last night. “Yes” I replied, “I’m an INFJ”.
“Of course you are” she said.
That’s a whole other blog post, but something I hope to explore more as I build rhythm into my life this year.
What about you? Any words for the year? Is Adventure or Discipline tugging at your sleeve? Have you any favourite rituals or routines?
It’s not what you do every now and then, but what you do everyday, that changes everything.