I was once the proud co-owner of an unglamorous Pontiac Bonneville. This came up the other day when my kids were talking about nice cars and they asked if we had ever owned one... and we told them how when we first got married, we made what seemed to me at the time like a very uncool, granny-car purchase. But my husband, in his tempered wisdom, was not aiming for cool or trendy, but what we could afford and that would do the job-- namely getting us places. So my dreams of a Volvo wagon were shot down. And we drove the white Bonnie.
My uncool resolution this year is not to buy a macrame weave wall hanging. #untrendy. Also to avoid tattoos, growing a huge beard, and buying any more mule mugs made of copper #moreuntrending. In a last ditch effort, I may try not using hashtags to make a point.
As this new year begins with it's dark early mornings and lots of challenges on the horizon, I've been thinking about going against the grain, and living for the real-life Good-Life in ways beyond my home decor and fashion statements. It began with my grandma.
She didn't set out to live a life that impacted the world. She certainly didn't aim at being cool or trendy or maybe even relevant. But she did live faithfully, in little steps, what was given to her each day.
I missed being able to attend my grandma's funeral last month. Instead, I sat down and read through the eulogies that were shared by her three children. Grandma, with a wicked cool name like Madge Adele, didn't set out to live a life that impacted the world. She certainly didn't aim at being cool or trendy or maybe even relevant. But she did live faithfully, in little steps, what was given to her each day.
My aunt talked about this simple, now often archaic faithfulness we all experienced in watching my grandma's life. So untrendy. So not revolutionary. So not #cool. She never traveled the world. Or worked for any social justice cause. But in her own way... forty years teaching Sunday school to young girls... sixty years of praying daily on her knees. The prayer list they found in an unassuming, three dollar spiral pad from Wal-mart listed all the government representatives by name, her family down to the great grandchildren, neighbors and people in need. She made her bed every day, washed the dishes, visited old(er) ladies, tended her flower garden.
I couldn't help but compare my generation. Wanting to be noticed by the world, wanting our lives to matter. Wanting to be noticed and liked. But "mattering" for us has specific and often short term criteria. We want our projects, our churches, our pursuits, to be Impactful on a grand, if not at least Very Noticeable scale. And perhaps most telling, is that instead of impact being the unintended outcome that may or may not happen after a life of patient, faithful living, it is often our expressed and intended purpose. The natural result, is that if something seems to be making little noticeable impact, if it appears not to matter, we stop doing it. My article-sending husband sent me a link to this intriguing talk by Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace and it struck a chord with how disillusioned young people today become when their work does not have a perceived impact on the world. They quit. In six months
In my circles, and probably no less true in other places as well, daily practices are also foretelling. Committed church attendance for believers is a thing of the past. If any obstacle stands in the way, or any priority arises ahead of it, or especially if there is any sense that the gathering of the saints in worship is dry, hard, lacking, fraught with issues, then giving it up is considered of no loss. A recent Barna study looked at the decline in not only attendance, but the simple fact that many people no longer see the gathering of the church as important. We can have our Bibles on the couch, if we read them. Maybe a downloaded sermon if we really want to try. We can have potlucks at our homes. And Spotify is there for all our worship song needs. The lasting, tangible impact of this neglect is unnoticeable it seems. At least to the present, naked eye.
But what if the impact of our days is not in direct proportion to the scale of perceived daily observation. What if, much like a blessed life, what Jesus calls us to and proclaims as reality, is a little upside down, a little more slow and patient than what we naturally conclude? If we re-wrote what an impactful, world-changing life looked like in the spirit of the Beatitudes, could it look something like this?
World-Changing are the ones who are not changed in their daily habits by the world, for they will live a life that molds others.
Impactful are the ones who take daily steps of anonymous faith, for their faithfulness will impact the world brick by slow-built brick.
World-Impacting are the ones who look for ongoing commitment and not for continual new opportunities.
I've been reading through the Beatitudes each day these last few weeks, as a sort of formation exercise for the beginning of the new year, and there is so much there that seems against our current grain. For one, Jesus, as his impact and popularity was gaining momentum, instead of harnessing that secret and writing a book, set out instead for the hilltops. He went anti-impact on a grand scale, to speak about eternal impact to a few. And he started with what it means to have a life that is truly blessed.
When we talk about being blessed, it is nearly always in a receiving positive things form, and nowadays usually attached to a hashtag and an image. My beautiful family all together and hiding our nasty arguments #blessed. The sunrise and a description of all the good things that happened to me today #blessed. A good breakfast arranged in even better natural light #blessed.
But would I be able to see it as blessing if I lost what was most important to me? "Blessed are you when you lose what is most dear to you, only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you."
Do I see myself as blessed if I don't reach my goals, get the affirmation I need, have the talents or personality or opportunities I crave? "Blessed are you when you are content with just who you are-- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought."
Do I see myself as blessed when everything seems to go wrong and I can't fix it? "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
Do I see myself as blessed when there is no visible impact beyond the everyday habits of daily life that are all I can point to? "You're blessed when you get your inside world-- your mind and heart-- put right. Then you can see God in the outside world."
Do I see myself as blessed when I long to grow, to know more of God, but feel only like a child who is failing to get any taller? "Blessed are you when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."
*Beatitude quotes from Matthew 5 in The Message
I take from this not that God desires us to have days full of of gloom and doom-- but that on a deeper level, and in response to a lie that often creeps into how I see my days, He wants us to believe and know that He is working... on the move even, drawing meaning and impact and purpose and contentment out of places we would see only loss or dryness. And we can join him in that work even in our quiet, faithful lives. Moreover, if we skip the climb and see only the ascent as important, if we spend ourselves for comfort or gain or popularity, or even for making an impact, we are chasing ghost dreams that can starve our souls in ways that our #straightforwardblessing-geared eyes cannot see.
The hilltop words we have been offered are spoken in reversals. What it looks like to be a world-changer, a person blessed, a life that impacts takes new 21st century skills that are older than the earth itself. Patience. Faithfulness. Humility. A daily walk that climbs the hills and sees the plodding steps as important as the hilltop arrival.