My theme for 2023

My theme for the last two years has been congruence, reminding me to live according to my values and needs. This primarily expresses itself through saying yes only when I really want to say yes, and saying no otherwise. As a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy, I’ve said yes to entirely too many things I would rather have said no to, especially over the last six years or so as we’ve had several huge family crises. They’ve been hard to navigate, especially as I’ve tried to honor my new wife’s needs. It’s been challenging to find the right balance. But in the end, I haven’t been happy, I haven’t been healthy.

This has been hard work. I love the feeling of being on the same team with others and do not enjoy discord. Also, I’m often not fully confident in my relationships, and being out of alignment can feel frightening. But I’ve done better and better at it over the last two years, and I feel much more in command of my life. I see positive outcomes in the places I’ve asserted myself, too.

I need to keep at it. I’m overcoming a lifetime of behavior. But for 2023, something even more important has emerged in my life. I’ve lost my zest for my faith. I want desperately to get it back.

West Park Christian Church

I’m in no danger of losing my faith. I’ve just lost its thread. The last few years of my service as a church elder were rough. We were an inner-city church with all of the problems of poverty. We had a weak bench of people with enough stability and maturity to lead. Everything fell on the elders, and it was a lot to carry.

What did me in was that we opened a day care, which failed. I never wanted us to do it in the first place because I didn’t believe we had the administrative strength to carry it off. I made it quite clear to the other elders how I felt, but in the end they still wanted to do it, and I decided to just go along.

When it failed, it failed spectacularly and consumed us for quite a while. At the end, we were all exhausted and demoralized. Then our longtime pastor decided to retire, and the fellow we chose to replace him didn’t work out. Then the pandemic happened, and we closed our doors for months.

We elders were out of gas. We had given our all, and nobody in the congregation was remotely ready to step up and take our places. Long story short, we deeded everything over to another, much larger, church in our faith tradition who would operate a satellite location of their church out of the building. There’s more to this story that I’ll probably tell someday but in short I left in protest before we completed the transfer, because I didn’t think some of the things the other church did were on the up and up. The other elders were willing to let it go, but I wasn’t. I lived my theme of congruence through that for sure!

I was consumed with all of the things we needed to do, and I found myself attending to spiritual disciplines less and less. In the end, I wasn’t in study or prayer at all. We didn’t attend worship during the pandemic. When West Park reopened, I returned, but I could see my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I felt far away from God.

When I went through my divorce all those years ago, I turned to God in desperation. I came to feel intensely close to him during those years. I could even see and feel him acting directly in my life. I wrote about this a little here. I’ve wanted that closeness back ever since, but I’ve prayed hard that I not need to go through such hardship again to regain it. I want that closeness not because I hit bottom with nowhere else to turn, but because I am pursuing it hard even in good times. This takes persistent effort on my part. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” says James 4:8. With that in mind, my 2023 theme is

🌷 renewal 🌷

This is the second time I’ve chosen this word; the last time was in 2019. Then I was interested in all kinds of renewal, but this year I’m concerned entirely with spiritual renewal.

Margaret and I have placed membership in a church in our faith tradition that’s near our home. It’s the largest church I’ve ever attended, with about 1,000 members. But at this scale, they have the ability to really do things. I’ve been a part of a men’s discipleship group there, which was a real shot in the arm for me. I begin one-on-one discipleship meetings with another man in the church soon. The sermons there have encouraged me, and I’ve returned to prayer and study, albeit haltingly. I’m currently rereading the gospels, with the aid of a good commentary.

I’m not going to make any bold pronouncements on just how else I’ll renew myself spiritually. I’ll feel my way along. I’ll keep rebuilding my spiritual disciplines as best I can. I’ll remain open to opportunity, and to feeling led. In time, all will be well again.

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Comments

23 responses to “My theme for 2023”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Interesting Jim…not much to comment over the religious aspect of this, but I did want to comment on the first part of this, and saying “no”.

    As I fade into old age, I have way too much angst associated with daily living going on. I’m involving myself with relationships that are not healthy for me, under the auspices of being there for old relationships when they are no longer a positive model. Situations that I don’t belong in are also a problem.

    A few years ago, I started looking at the lives of my friends I really admire, and what I came to realize, is that many of them eliminate both people and situations from their lives that have become more negative than positive. The “Catholic Guilt”, I was raised under, seems to foster an interaction that always gives all the benefit of the doubt, and the idea that all are redeemable, even if you’d take a moment to reflect and realized they were dragging you into the cesspool of bad interactions and faulty thought. I’ve been thinking about this off and on over the years, more so over the last month.

    This really is in the top of my mind, as yesterday, I spent a few hours with a couple I’ve been weaning myself from over the last few years. My pal is a long time friend, and he’s married to someone who is completely impossible. He’s already lost most of his friends over her, and had friends that had longer tenures with him than I did, and they will see him by himself anytime, but refuse to interact with her. In some aspects, this has made him react by dragging her more places than he would have in the past. I hadn’t seen him in a few months, and agreed to have a drink with him yesterday, and it was a disaster. His wife is virtually “certifiable”, passive-aggressive, as well as many other horrible traits, including behavior like blasting the music in the house when people are having conversations that she doesn’t have the education or intelligence to understand, and trying to “take over”. Two years ago, I decided to challenge this type of thing, and it has not gone well with my friend. I ended up being bothered by, and thinking about this, all the rest of the night, and this morning when I woke up, and you know, I’m too old, and have spent a lifetime trying to go along to get along, and to find peace in the future I’m just over it!

    I’ve always been sort of a loner, and I have no problem doing a slow “fade to black” on many of these relationships that are causing so much discomfort and angst on a daily basis. It’s time to work on every day, if not happy, at least not bombarded by bad situations.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a shame that your friend’s wife is chasing all of his friends away. He’s got to know his wife is a piece of work.

  2. -N- Avatar

    Life comes and goes in phases, or something. At times some things are more prevalent than others. At times things change and we are in the middle of the change and cannot see it. Changing old patterns of behavior gets you off the old treadmill and flings you into unknown territory.

    Family systems change when someone changes the patterns. I am not a religious person nor go to church, but do believe that our relationships with God fluctuate as we do, and the form of God changes as we do, but looking beyond ourselves to that which is larger than us often brings us to new perspectives and experiences and thoughts.

    Renewal is just this process. For me, God is like a very large Swiss Army knife – filled with more things than I can consider or understand, but always there to be used as needed, when needed. As you change, so does your perspective on many things, and much is uncharted territory. Training wheels come off, guide rails vanish, and you are left to depend on what you know and believe, and test those systems as they change. I firmly believe it is important to find the good in everything, even if you realize that you never want to experience that again!

    I know you will find your way through all this and emerge safely on the next step in your journey.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure I will. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years is that I generally move the needle on things I choose to focus on!

  3. brandib1977 Avatar

    Renewal. What a beautiful and exciting word to help guide you this year. I admire you for choosing a word so strong and so hopeful.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, gawrsh, thanks!

  4. Russ Ray Avatar

    I was curious if you’d mind sharing what commentary you’re using. I’ve been looking for one since I got a new Bible last year that has space for journaling but doesn’t include commentary.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This one. I don’t love it. It’s okay.

      https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/toc/

    2. Michael Avatar
      Michael

      My favorite is actually Matthew Henry’s if you don’t mind reading old English (published 1708-1714).

      I would use Believer’s Bible Commentary from William MacDonald more often than I do, but all of my study is on e-Sword where I would have to pay for an electronic copy.

    3. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

      Russ, Crossway ESV bibles provide commentary in their study bibles. Not much margin for journaling. Might be better off with a side journal if you get one.

  5. John Holt Avatar

    Jim, I like the “renewal” idea. It resonates with me just now, as I’ve been estranged spiritually for almost 20 years, but feel like I need to reestablish my relationship with God. Being forced to make a choice to leave a church is not to mean God is not still present. You have, I think, done well in finding a more suitable church in which to grow again. God speed in your renewal!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good luck to you as you find God again! God likes being found.

  6. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Jim, this also resonates with me. I think one of the things about faith is faithfulness, God is always there for us, sometimes front and centre, sometimes more in the background as our lives take the inevitable twists and turns along the road. We recently found we could not remain with a church community we loved – there was a change of minister which has not worked well and then some tension over money – I was Treasurer and Chairman of Vestry – and we decided it would be better for us, and for the parish if we stepped back. It was heartbreaking at the time, but sometimes we would never move on to new opportunities if we are not made to feel uncomfortable where we are. We spent a year with a small country parish twenty minutes away, which was very healing, and then out of the blue the opportunity presented itself to move into a new area in the countryside! It feels like a whole new opportunity, and a new chapter in our lives. The community are fabulous and we love it! Still waiting to see how we will fit in to the nearby church, but we strongly feel we are in the right place and that whatever eventuates will be part of God’s plan! Watch this space! I think my point is that sometimes our integrity is tested, and it is always painful, but there is alway something new at the other end of it. Blessings :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Steve! I hope your church involvement in your new place will be rewarding.

  7. Christopher May Avatar
    Christopher May

    I wish you all the best on finding renewal this year. I’d offer some words of wisdom but in my own faith journey, the key thing I’ve learned is that it has to be a personal journey. Moreso than anything else in life, finding a connection to the Divine has to be done in a way that works for you. I hope that your theme can help you find a path that works for you this year and that the closeness you experienced can be discovered again without the trauma of your divorce as a catalyst.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There’s really no substitute for study and prayer. It’s not mystical or magical by any means. It’s just discipline.

  8. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

    Jim, I recommend two books for you to pick up and read that would help change your perspectives about the presence of the Lord in your life. Even when we step away he is always there waiting to quietly listen to what we have to say and even if that is for us to express our dissatisfaction with the relationship. We must ask him to point out our wrongs and how we can right our relationship again. He’ll use your environment in addition to your time in his Word and in prayer to show you how much he still loves you. Sometimes our own hardships and experiences can distract or cloud our understanding of where he stands. Look to your side and you will see him walking next to you even through everything you went through. In times of hardship you will see just one pair of footsteps but he didn’t leave you then, he carried you through it. Now those books are: Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund & Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. Both are biblically sound.

    1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

      I recommend John’s book in audio format where he reads it himself.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hi Daniel, and thanks. I’m a longtime Christian at this point who’s had times of intense closeness with God and other times of distance. I know the way back! Monday morning I will begin a 1×1 study of the Gospels with another fellow using this book:

      https://www.amazon.com/Chronological-Life-Christ-Glory-Galilee/dp/0899007511/

      I think the 1×1 study and discussion, and relationship building, and hopefully ability to be honest and vulnerable over time, is just the ticket for me.

      1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

        Yep, know what you mean about the closeness. That really helps. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll add it to my wish list of books.

        1. rick bell Avatar
          rick bell

          Yes, it’s important to apply ALL the scriptures to our life. Not just the ones we like or think address’s us the best. If they but heads with other scriptures then we’re not applying them right. 2Timothy 3:16. Makes our worship sound and pleasing to our creator.

  9. J P Avatar

    I know what you mean, I have been going through a dry period in my faith for a time too. The good thing about having a dry period as a Catholic, is that there is at least enough routine involved to keep me at least minimally engaged. I also need to do a better job of intentionality (says the guy who is just now reading posts from the first of January).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m doing all the things: prayer, study, church. But it’s stale. That happens! I’ve started a 1×1 study with someone on the gospels, which ought to be very helpful.

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