2016 threw punches without letting up until the clock struck 12, delivering my exhausted existence into a new calendar year. I awoke January 1, 2017, with these words in my mind: Live. Breathe. Love. Die. Repeat. As I lay in bed, I let each word roll around in my mind and I realized that this was a mantra for the new year, birthed out of the death of the old. Each of these words are an expression of lessons that I had gleaned in both joy and sorrow. Each of them, both individually and in sequence, gives me great peace. I always process through writing and I decided to publish it, not to give out law to anyone, but perhaps someone else would read it who’s tracking on the same frequency and find it encouraging. Ultimately, I’m giving myself (and readers) permission to be still and know God. To open ourselves up to tasting and seeing his goodness in the simplest places and perhaps it would create space for faith to increase.
Live Sitting next to the airplane window, my husband leaned over and pointed out the Statue of Liberty. This was the first time I had ever seen it in person, being my first trip to New York. The thought of stepping foot into a piece of the world I had never been overwhelmed me. I took a deep breath and told myself to take this moment in all the way. Tears bubbled up in my eyes and I smiled at the statue, now a blur.
I want to recreate that experience of being fully present in the moment this year. I want to continue to try new things that both terrify me and take my breath away. For those of us who are explorers at heart, new experiences are an incredible, addictive rush. While we thrive on new endeavors, we have a tendency to seek the thrills of the new and often miss appreciating the beauty in that which is most familiar. Adventurers tend to also be dreamers who have to learn to be fully present in the mundane and remind themselves that enjoyment in the recognizable poses no threat to hope of future thrills. Perhaps, it even makes those new experiences more satisfying.
As I thought about this word, Live, I became acutely aware of a new desire stirring in me to enjoy regular experiences fully because by having them it reminds me that I’m alive. I want to eat, run, play, and create, not to gain some sort of acceptance by them, but because these things in themselves are beautiful gifts from a loving God. Gifts that can only be received by the living.
What if we began to allow the elements of this beautiful world to awaken our senses to beauty surrounding us in the day to day? Recognize when your skin is being kissed by the warm sun as you jog outdoors, breathe in the aroma of mint tea and take notice of the sense of calm it brings to your body with each sip. Tickle your kids and catch the way your heart swells up like it’s going to burst as their laughter fills your ears. Look deep into the eyes of people in your life, searching for their humanity, and press into the love you have for them. Read new materials and stretch your mind to understand new concepts and embrace the excitement over discovering ideas you’ve never considered before. Stand outside, gazing up at the stars, allowing yourself to feel incredibly small but intentionally sought out and intimately accepted by God, who created all things. Live life for the enjoyment of life itself and know that in doing so, it delights your Creator.
Breathe I think the best way to learn to take notice of beauty in that which is most familiar to us is making time to just breathe. The world comes at us so inconceivably fast, it feels as though distractions are delivered to our feet in bulk quantities daily. Not to mention that life itself comes with a free sidecar of difficulty and heartbreak. I am an introspective person and can get swept up and carried away by my own thoughts without much effort. When my inner world and external world are both raging, it gets astonishingly overwhelming. I’m learning to breathe through these moments.
There is benefit to unplugging and having time alone to be quiet and still. The biggest struggle for me is stopping my mind from trying to solve all of the world’s problems during this time and just listen for love. I try to think on the truths of the gospel or just allow my mind to go blank and focus on breathing. It sounds like meditation and maybe it is? By letting the world melt away and focusing on your own breath, you become aware that even that, in and of itself, is another of God’s great gifts to you.
Love Love broke through in an amazing way for me this past year and in doing so I realized that I struggle to hear and feel it from others and I’ve never learned to give it to myself. Performing for love and fear of abandonment is built into my operating system and it will probably always be a struggle. This was a hard truth to come to grips with but also incredibly helpful. I’ve realized that I’m surrounded by people who have loved me well, in ways that I needed and didn’t realize. They don’t require me to be anyone but myself and they give me freedom to process and express. They do this because of how much they’ve been loved and accepted unconditionally. We need to love others out of the love we have been given, even those who are undeserving, or enemies. However, we aren’t required to let everyone deep into our hearts. I think you can learn about love on a deep level with just a handful of people because it requires a level of vulnerability that is both impractical and unsustainable with many. Not to mention, there will be only a few people in life who will allow you to let them down because they believe that you love them. These people will give you the benefit of the doubt and offer forgiveness without question. Invest your heart deeply in these people because they will safely and lovingly help you grow and vice versa.
The only love that comes to us completely void of conditions is from God. This is the love we most need, the love we are the most suspicious of, and the love we kick against the hardest. It is incredibly difficult to believe that something as beautiful as love is ours no matter what. Yet God continues to pour it out on us despite this disbelief and rebellion. It’s insanity, really. When we catch even a glimpse, it makes us laugh at our own foolishness for doubting. The cross is evidence that God is fully invested in us and will never abandon us. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever (John 14:16) Ultimately it’s a battle of faith, a battle of belief. The good news is that our Creator delights in granting us faith and he never tires of our asking. I’ve been praying that God would help me to see, hear, and feel love and then out of that, give it honestly — to myself and to others. Love begets love.
Die I died in so many ways last year — spiritually, relationally, emotionally, etc. Each time, gruelingly painful, as death always is. No one likes to die in any capacity and we fight it at all costs. We thrash like crazy to keep our heads above water and prove that we can make it on our own. I like to believe that I’m strong and capable in ways that I’m incredibly weak and incapable. The mantra is helpful and practical but it is no savior. I will fail at freely living, breathing, and loving because somewhere along the way, I will inevitably pick up those performance reins and strive to gain acceptance by them. Because I’m a sinner, this mantra that gives me permission to stop and listen for love will become about me and what I need to be doing instead of reminding me to simply receive. When this happens, I will overexert myself and die in that failure. It’s here, when I’ve exhausted myself and I’m completely spent in my own abilities that I despair and give up: ie. Die. As much as I hate this part of the process, I have found that it is as inescapable as it is necessary.
Repeat I liked that this word came to me at the end of the list because this mantra is cyclical. Death never gets the last word. Because of Christ, death now leads to life. I will fall on Christ and confess the ways I’ve taken my eyes off of him, forgetting his work on my behalf, and thus trying to extract my own salvation from his gifts. In this place of giving up I will be reminded of the gospel. I will be recreated into something new, someone new. I will hear love anew and my faith will increase.“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus will be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11)”.
Live. Breathe. Love. Die. Repeat. 2017