We are already through January. Does December seem like a distant reality to you? Can you even remember back to Thanksgiving, 2016? Family get-togethers, parties, gift exchanges, amazing food, sleeping in, and special traditions are all a part of November, December, and the kickoff in January. But by now, everyone has thrown away the wrapping paper, put away decorations, and has started, and maybe even already quit, exercising again. I think today is as good as any to reboot and start the rest of 2017 well.
Take the first 10% of 2017 to Prepare for the Remaining 90%
Ten percent is a good number. It's what optimistic investors hope to make each year. It's related to the principle of first fruits. Over ten years ago, we started giving ourselves January and February to dedicate our year to God, to plan, to wrap up the old and prepare for the new.
Another reason for taking the first ten percent of the year is so some very important family practices don't get lost in the glitter and gifts: practices of reflection, contemplation, and remembrance. Doug instilled these in our family early in our marriage, and they have taken hold and become an important part of transitioning for us, individually and as a family. Here they are:
Three Steps to a Vibrant 2017
1. Review the last year and note God’s providences.
Sit down with the whole family with personal and family calendars, photos, journals, and the like, and go through each week of the last year. Name the things the Lord did for you, accomplished through you, rescued you from, taught you, and so on. Speak them out loud. Number them.
It’s Psalm 78, “But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done…” And Psalm 143, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands.” And Isaiah 12:4, “Make known upon the nations what He has done.” We are commanded to remember what the Lord has done for us. And for good reason. We forget so easily. We are on to the next thing, without looking back. The next problem. Or the next project. Or the next adventure. Moving forward is necessary, but never without having looked back first.
Following is a partial list Doug and I compiled some time ago to help us remember.
- Who did we meet?
- What friendships were made?
- Where did we travel?
- What household projects were finished?
- What sermons touched us and stayed with us?
- What were the important meetings of the year?
- What books did we read? Individually? As a family?
- What films did we enjoy?
- What health hurdles did we meet? Lost baby teeth? Wisdom teeth? Sickness? Surgery?
- Who grew taller and by how much?
- Who accomplished a physical goal (weight loss, muscle increase, marathon, etc.)
- What Scripture was memorized?
- What loved ones passed into eternity?
- What were the national/international victories of the year?
- What were the national/international tragedies of the year?
- What personal victories, individually and also collectively as a family, did we experience?
- What personal failures, individually and also collectively as a family, did we experience?
- What commitments can we make individually to grow and improve in the coming year?
- What commitments can we make collectively to grow as a family in the coming year?
- What were the top 5 to 10 themes that defined the year for our family?
2. Write thank you letters.
Physical, hand-written letters of appreciation on actual pieces of paper that are then slipped into envelopes, stamped, and mailed. Skip the text messages and even emails. Use a pen. We have traditionally written 5 to 10 letters per person, although, of course, there is not a magic number. Pastors and close friends are obvious choices, but don’t forget the bag guy at the grocery store who always looks out for you to help you. Or the babysitter who gave up lots of Friday nights so you could slip out with your spouse. And those closest to you, your spouse, your in-laws, your children - they will treasure a hand-written letter. I speak from experience! Spell out why you are grateful for that person or that family. Be specific and as detailed as possible. Pull out the thesaurus. Honor and gratitude bring health to the soul. . .yours and the recipient.
It’s Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” And I Corinthians 1:4, “I always thank my God for you. . .” For many years, a friend started out letters to me with these verses. Oh, how treasured I felt!
3. Resolve and forgive.
When we close one year, we inevitably carry some baggage into the next. But do everything you can to resolve issues, and what you can’t resolve, let go. Try not to carry old debts, financial or emotional, into the new year. If you cannot formally work through everything to finality, at least determine to have a spirit of forgiveness and don’t allow anger or bitterness or grudges to follow you into the new year. When the old issues creep back in, come February or March, remind yourself that those were last year’s thorns, and they will not be allowed to cloud your heart again.
It's Genesis 50:17, “Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” And Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” You know people who rehearse grievances and offenses, sometimes with Bible verses attached as justification. Watch, and you will see their faces harden over time as bitterness takes root. The truth of the matter is that the worst hurt against us pales in comparison to the least of our offenses against our Savior. And He forgave us!
Doug's dad, Howard Phillips, used to say, "Start well, finish well." It's a good maxim that I have always treasured. It applies to relationships. It applies to planning and ending a year. If you haven’t wrapped up 2016 sufficiently, do it now. And take ten percent of your year to lay a foundation for the remaining ninety percent.