I’m a bit of a list addict. I get such a secret pleasure from making them and crossing things off. And they’re everywhere: on my phone, on my laptop, on countless pieces of paper strewn through our house. I list everything, too. Housework that needs doing, things I need to buy, projects that need to be done on the house, creative projects I want to do, people I just want to phone for a chat.
I especially love a good list at New Year. I’ll often use that little lull in between Christmas and New Year with a lovely fresh piece of paper, and in my very best handwriting (of course!) list all my new year’s resolutions. I say all because I have a habit of never being able to settle on one, or even two or three resolutions. This year is no different. I tend to store up all ways I’d like to see my life being better and decide that the clock turning midnight on the 1 January is the time I can start to tackle all of them at once. Sometimes this list is 10 resolutions long!
It’s ironic as lists are meant to be help not a hindrance to productivity. Yet I can confidently say that in the last 10 years I can only remember sticking to one new year’s resolution out of all the many I’ve made.
This isn’t unique to New Year, either. I’ve realised how unproductive I’ve become at times, overwhelmed by how much I have to, and want, to do.
And again, what should be a good productivity tool has become a hindrance as I apply the ‘urgent and important rule’ to all my lists (see what I’m on about here). In theory this should make me more efficient, but I’ve realised it’s only leaving me totally demotivated and missing out on lots of good things. Why? Because I’ve realised many of my values of what makes something ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ are not actually that important.
In particular, how highly I value what others think of me. Sometimes my motivations in this context are more earnest, for instance not wanting to appear ungenerous, unkind or uncaring. Sometimes they are less so and are of a more ‘keeping up appearances’ nature.
I realised the other day this is what had sucked the joy out of Christmas for me in recent years. Several years ago, you might as well have called me Mrs Claus. I loved Christmas so much. But things like making homemade gift tags, baking Christmas cakes, sending cards and buying presents had become about what would people think of me if I didn’t do these things, as opposed to just the simple joy of being generous or getting in touch with people you haven’t seen for a while.
It’s taken an awful event this year for me to see how freeing it can be to have healthier priorities. At 20 weeks pregnant our daughter was diagnosed with a fatal condition that meant she would die very soon after birth, if not before. We decided to carry on the pregnancy and we had 16 weeks of time with her. Weirdly, those were the most peaceful 16 weeks of my life. Suddenly it was like the world had been pulled from under my feet. The only thing I could do was to rely on God and count the blessings I did have, which was some time, however short, to cherish with my daughter. Yes, life had to carry on during that time – some housework had to be done, bills had to be paid etc. But suddenly all those extra things that previously seemed to matter didn’t matter anymore. I remember there was one morning our new little puppy jumped up on my lap, curled herself around my bump and our baby girl seemed to start playing with the puppy by tapping exactly where she was lying. We had guests coming around and the house needed tidying, but what the heck, this moment was too precious and rare! What did it matter if we appeared to be a bit untidy? That small moment is now one of my happiest memories, yet I could have so easily missed it.
And this is meant to be the joy of living life under God. We can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to shake off the world’s priorities – whether it be about money, power, or how we appear to others. We can live life so much more freely and abundantly by aligning ourselves with God’s priorities – counting the blessings we do have, rather than trying to pursue what the world says we should have; loving and serving others not because we want people to like us more, but to be loving and generous and reflect God’s light in the world.
So on my new year’s resolution list this year I’m breaking a habit. It’ll be a short list, in fact there’ll only be one resolution, which is to keep what I value as important in line with what God sees as important. It might not be a ‘SMART’ target from the world’s perspective, but if this year has taught me anything, it’s a wise one.