It's January. There are pine needles on the living room floor, leftover pie in the fridge. The house is warm; the sky gray. You're thinking of tackling those tupperware bins, perhaps dismantling the nativity scene and sending it back up into the attic for another year, but then the mailman knocks at your door, arriving with full hands. You greet him, reaching for the fresh stack of bills, belated holiday cards and - prominently displayed on the top of the stack - a woman's interest magazine.
From the glossy cover, you see a blonde in a beanie blowing a fistful of snow, flashing a wide smile flocked by bold, colorful headlines:
New Year, New You!
10 Steps to a Happier Year
Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?
Get Fit In Five Minutes, Really!
The Best New Year's Resolution Yet
And as you shut the door, as you head to the kitchen to drop the mail on a sticky counter littered with remnants of your morning waffle ritual, you begin to survey your home, your family, yourself.
And you begin to - slowly, at first - wonder if it's enough.
In this overflowing age of high-speed Internet and viral popularity, we are offered everything we could possibly imagine to live a fully successful, holistic life. There are life coaches and essential oils, home spas and state-of-the-art juicers. There are TED Talks. Face lifts. There are refrigerators that brew coffee, personal chauffeurs, subscriptions to grocery deliveries. (And when all else fails, there's 2-day shipping on whatever else your heart desires.)
But when it comes to this mad dash pursuit toward betterment, I often wonder where our pursuits might lead us. Self-actualization, the next best thing, the elusive happiness chase -- can it be found? Does it end well? Is it worth the hunt?
Or are we so busy trying to better our lives that our lives cannot better us?
Have we left any space for acceptance?
Any room for God?
My husband was born with a brain tumor. It sits there, omniscient, quietly resting on his brain stem. I read in a medical textbook once that his glioma is roughly the size of a grape, the small purple variety I slice in half for my toddler to eat by the fistful on a hot summer day. It is unmoving, unwavering. Inoperable. We were told to keep an eye on it.
We do, but not really.
Mostly, we do what everyone else does. We make plans. We fold our sweaters, mow the lawn. We hit the snooze button. We take the dog to the groomers, buy coffee filters at the grocery store. Burn dinner. Change diapers, tell stories, watch Netflix.
We are happy, mostly.
But on the gloomy days, the inevitable ones, I take a peek at the bank statements and the mounting dish pile and the discarded fingernail clippings - and I begin to tally up the years we’ve lived together, the years we have left, the quiet expiration date his tumor has offered us.
Is this it? I think. Is this what we're given as husband and wife? A shortened life span, a quick marriage?
Perhaps you've felt the lack, too. Perhaps you've spent years trying to accept circumstances that lie just beyond your control. Perhaps you’ve been wasting days, weeks trying to tame this wild beast we call life and once you’ve nearly caught it, like a tiger's tail, you’ve only felt the weight of it all knock you off your feet once again.
Broken legs, broken promises. Lost keys, lost jobs. Lost babies.
So much of it can appear senseless, yes? Reasonless? Out of control?
But here's what I know to be true: Life isn't a given. It's a gift.
It is not ours to make sense of.
Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are."
If we can remind ourselves of this - that life isn't a puzzle to be completed, a problem to be solved, a project to be perfected - we can begin to see our lives from a state of abundance, rather than lack.
We can avoid the temptation to peer at our calendars, our careers, our children to see what we don't have and, instead, we can see clearly what we do:
This one moment, this one day, this one life.
As a stylist and former HGTV.com web series host, I’m often asked in interviews a simple, and a not so simple question:
What’s the best thing you can do to revamp a space?
There are the usual responses:
Remove heavy draperies; replace with light linens. Experiment with pattern mixing to bring variety, excitement. Paint the walls white. Stick to a simple, natural color scheme. Remember, closed storage will be your best friend.
And then there’s the one I forget:
Accept it as it is. Show gratitude for the blessing of four walls, for a stocked (albeit likely disorganized) pantry. Survey your home and learn to see abundance. Understand that what is offered to you is a provision, not a project.
In short: love what you’ve got.
This works for our hearts, too, of course. Daily, we sift through cluttered minds and souls as we attempt to make sense of things, as we make grand sweeping theories about life and love and what it means to be messy Christians in a messy world.
On a good day, we see what we already have.
On others, we buy the lie that we’re not doing enough, that God’s grace will run out, that surely this time we’ve done the unforgivable. That a new home, a new relationship, a new career might be just what we need to feel happy, content, fulfilled. Better.
I’m in need a change, we’ll say, forgetting the very promise we know to be true:
A changed circumstance isn’t the goal. A changed heart is.
I believe there is only one path to a changed heart, and it must begin with God. Yet there are a few ways to approach God, I think, to begin the change together, and although neither of the below methods are easy, they are both simple enough to be encountered daily, accessed at any time:
1. Pay Attention.
“I will hear what God the LORD will say; For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones.” -Psalm 85:8
In today’s fast-paced society, multitasking is praised as a valuable skill to hone. And yet, so much of multitasking prevents the ability to practice mindfulness, the art of paying attention. When is the last time we paused to watch the marinara sauce boil, or stopped to think how warm and enveloping the garlic smells without also checking our email, thawing the chicken, wiping down the counters and setting the table?
When was the last time we tried to complete a task step by step, just one thing at a time?
When we do this - when we practice paying attention - the beauty of life has a way of smacking us right in the face. We notice a toddler’s widened eyes and dimpled cheek as she learns to read. We notice the kind smile and weathered hands of a grocery cashier offering us a receipt. We notice the amber flames of a crackling fire while snow spills outside.
We notice the gift.
And in noticing the gift, we notice the Giver.
It is impossible not to encounter change once we notice the Giver, once we’re pulled from the mundane, once we begin to see how many extraordinary ordinaries there truly are in our midst.
To Try: Challenge yourself to tackle a short chore mindfully. Whether it’s dish duty or trash night, focus on the muscles you’re using to get the job done. Slow your pace; think of only what you’re doing in that very moment and resist the temptation to plan ahead. What do you notice in this moment? What did you see, feel, hear? How can you incorporate this mindfulness in other activities throughout your day?
2. Invite Prayer.
“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. … Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.” Philippians 4:6-7
We think of prayer as a lofty word with lofty implications, but prayer can be a simple sentence of reflection, a mere cry for help amidst a frenzied day.
Pray about everything, all day long, always and always. That’s the only secret I know.
One of my favorite prayers is also one of the simplest: God, help me see this.
It breathes life into the most average of evenings and offers calm to the craziest of mornings. ‘Help me see this’ is simply saying to God, “Please, show me what to look for. Show me what I’m missing. Show me how you’re already providing for me, how I already have everything I need. Show me you.”
To Try: In what ways are you complicating prayer? Write down one sentence to repeat to God throughout the day. If it helps, set an alarm in your phone to solidify the habit until you no longer need the reminder. Reflect on the peace you feel throughout the day -- how might your one sentence prayer be changing you?
And so, as we go about our January with our stacks of bills, belated holiday cards and that glossy magazine cover that rests on our kitchen counter, let’s begin a new practice. As we wipe up sticky breakfast leftovers, as we pile away the Christmas decorations and sweep the pine needles from the rug, let’s take pause:
Let us forgo the glossy magazine cover. Let us forget the new car, the new sweater, the new book. Let us resist the temptation to control this wild life, to fancy it up, to pad our discomforts with more things that offer temporary relief and momentary fulfillment.
We’ve already been given what we need: a new day, with new mercies, offering just enough manna disguised as our morning waffles.
May we enjoy the abundance, today and always. And may we, instead of seeking ways to change our lives, seek the only one who can change our hearts.
A former art director/stylist in Los Angeles, Erin Loechner has been blogging and speaking for more than a decade. Her new book, “Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path” releases on January 10. She can be found (almost) daily wrestling through motherhood, faith and kindness at www.designformankind.com.