A story first, to set the scene.
When I was very young (perhaps 6 or so) I was out on a walk with my Mum. My sister was probably in tow, being annoying in the way that only 4-year-old sisters can, and I was undoubtedly trying to get my own back. It was autumn and likely a blustery sort of day, or the day after a blustery sort of day, because it so happened that I found an acorn.
To my small mind, this acorn meant one thing; an oak tree.
Huge and grand and stately, with quirky-yet-dignified lobed leaves spreading out a great canopy across the skies. Immense trunks with deep, satisfyingly textured bark. Small, shining acorns, each in its fairy cup. What could be more wonderful than to truly own one of these giants?
And how to own it, but to grow it, and to call it my own from the very first split in its shell as those tiny, fragile roots took their first sup of soil and clumsily-poured water?
I managed to convince my mum that my owning of an oak tree was a Grand Idea. And we duly returned home and planted the acorn, which was lovingly but ineptly cared for.
It responded beautifully, that little acorn. It willingly split its shell and bade its roots grow into the earth of the tiny pot I’d placed it in. It flourished under my childish ministrations and poked a shoot above the surface, thrilling me with tiny nubbin leaves which grew, round and undeveloped, and which pushed forth a taller shoot, this time with leaves looking more like their adult kind.
I faithfully cared for and watched my oak tree grow. Once it was beyond shoothood, and bore a slender trunk as long as my arm, I took it to school and explained its journey to my less-than-enthralled classmates. I didn’t care. My oak tree was growing into my dream.
It had a few changes of home over the years, but finally, once it stood above me, still disappointingly skinny, and somehow with two trunks (or two trees?) rather than the one, in a pot which definitely cramped its style (and yet how could we put it into yet another pot, for what would we do with it then?) it started getting neglected.
It was stunted from too many years in a tiny home, its roots never developed enough to support sturdiness or grandeur. At approximately 23 years old, the oak tree (still in my garden in its too-small pot) bears testament to my lack of ability to finish what I started. It is stuck now, at the ungainly teenage stage of development, and unless I find somewhere which will willingly take something so commonplace as an oak (and a poor specimen at that) and give it a permanent home, with room to send its roots gleefully outwards, there it will remain. Stuck. Stunted. A travesty of the glorious dream that was.
For too many years, my New Years Resolutions have ended up like that acorn. Delighted in at first, but rapidly tired of when life took over, or results weren’t forthcoming. And eventually the neglect ran too far and too deep for sensible rescue, and the most effective thing to do was cut bait and get free from the mess I’d created for myself, brazening it out by scoffing “Who even makes resolutions any more? – *I* certainly don’t; they’re stupid and outdated.” or worse, standing in righteous judgement of them “It feels so hypocritical to make a New Year’s resolution because there’s no point lying about something I’m never going to do.“
This year is different.
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I need a resolution.
Not one to do with the outside of me, because if I’m going to be vain and shallow, I can manage without a side-order of guilt when I inevitably don’t live up to my own expectations, or disappoint myself by never achieving perfection.
Not one to do with the ‘should-‘ or ‘should-not do’s, because again, guilt, and who’s got time for that? I know perfectly well what I should and should not be doing, and if I’ve neglected to do so thus far, no amount of resolutions or accountability will make me engage, and I’ll end up resenting the nagging and the feelings of failure.
The resolution I need is to do with Inside Me.
The Me I’m meant to be.
I believe I was created as a unique being, with wonderful characteristics all her own, based in the essence of Good. And though I am but a shadow of those things, I hope that by spending a year, in one specific way, attempting to engage with them, I will grow closer to the thought – the original dream for my being, imagined while I was still an acorn – that glorious oak.
I think that there are signposts along the way, indicating some of the characteristics I have within me, waiting to grow – love, joyfulness, peacefulness, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control – and though I have some of these in small measure, I know that there is a way to go on many of them before I can be said to be truly kind, honourable, humble, mindful of others or slow to anger. I want to grow into someone who protects; who trusts; who hopes and perseveres. And to do this I know what I must focus on:
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…(Philippians 4:8)
And so I have a strategy. Because to have even half a chance of focussing on these things, I first have to notice them.
Step 1: A Year of Thankfulness
Each day will bring new opportunities to actively Seek Good and find thankfulness. I already know that 2014 looks set to hold some immensely challenging times, as well as some incredibly joyful ones, but there is a difference between being happy and being thankful. Because happiness is transient and so subjective that to pin it down between one day and the next is like trying to nail smoke to a wall. Happiness may not always be found, particularly in the dark nights of the soul I know are waiting. But gratitude is a discipline and thankfulness is a choice. So each day I’m going to write down one Thing of Thankful. In pen. On paper. Purposefully.
Step 2: Do things which bring me joy
Because without the feeling of deep and abiding joy to sustain me and bring sunshine into those dark moments, life can become too much. So I’m going to connect more, with friends, with family, with people who matter. I’m going to have more hugs. I’m going to listen more to the things they have to say. I’m going to hold hands. I’m going to tell people I love them when it’s true and should be said. I’m going to be braver about showing I care. I’m going to seek beauty, and be beautiful. I’m going to take in art, nature, everyday life, and find wonder in it. I’m going to read more. I’m going to be open to learning new things and thinking new thoughts. I’m going to arrange surprises and help out and do kindnesses and offer encouragement. I’m going to try to focus on the bigger picture. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to Do Good.
And it’s going to be wonderful.
And in a year’s time, with due care and effort, I’ll be me, only better at it.
And perhaps a little closer to that glorious dream.