I began last year with something I’ve not often begun new years with: a very marked sense of joyous anticipation. This is not to say I greet each year with an Eeyore-like sort of cheerlessness. But the sense of joy mixed with anticipation was quite strong. I felt that something was afoot. I just didn’t know what it would be.
Looking back on last year, I cannot say that that joyous anticipation was tied specifically to any one thing. But it was a year filled with many good things. I experienced direct providential answers to many prayers, for myself and for others. I grew in new friendships as well as renewed old ones. I grew as a father, though I don’t doubt, since fatherhood will be an eternal vocation for me, such growth is a tiny microscopic speck along a long trajectory. I was led almost daily into joy and thanksgiving for each day’s providences, even when those may have initially been experienced with some level of pain or fear or sorrow.
At the risk of sounding like daytime talk shows, a good deal of the year was spent getting reacquainted with many of the interests, passions, and hopes I’d once held, but which the circumstances of life, and my choices, had crowded out to the sidelines. I re-read biographies of Jim Elliot, the Protestant missionary martyr whose life story led me to my alma mater and for a brief time (in retrospect) into various forms of Christian ministry. A little more superficially, I embraced again my love for the Pittsburgh Steelers and watched their games whenever I could. I watched old John Wayne movies, and felt again that child-like romance for adventure and daring.
Probably one of the most profound experiences I had was choosing to get in shape and to lose weight. I got back on to the treadmill and into the weight room. I found again the joy and exhilaration I used to have back some 25 years ago as a young man and athlete. (However, with absolutely no illusions that I was up to those so-called “glory days”! No sirree!) I’d “tried” doing this several times before, but it never stuck. This time, I think largely because the decision came from deep inside and wasn’t motivated by external considerations, it stuck. I’ve kept with it for about half a year.
The experience profoundly restored my innate optimism, my ability to set and achieve goals, and the self-confidence I used to have not all that long ago. As a result, I dropped several inches and 33 pounds by the end of the year. I’ve simply continued what I started about six months ago here at the start of this new year, and am excited about where I’ll be by the beginning of summer.
Ever since I was in college, and was challenged by a youth minister, I have set yearly goals. These are not, and have never been for me, of the quality of “new year’s resolutions.” They have always been goals that were core to my sense of calling and vocation, and to my sense of God’s purpose for me. Some years I did well on achieving those goals, other years . . . not so much. Probably for the past several years it’s been a lot more “not so much.” But the one thing the weight loss and getting in shape did for me was help me experience what successful goal-setting and achievement could be. And so, I’ve once again, as is my habit, set for myself several core goals for this year.
Despite all the talk about “putting your goals out there” so you can be “accountable” for them, I will not do so here. Some of them, such as goals I have for improving my spiritual life (which is a fancy way of saying “improving my fidelity to Christian tradition and duty”), to state publicly would be presumptuous. Others are deeply personal. I will say this: all of my goals this year have one common theme: simple back to basics stuff.
Of course, since I’ve already mentioned it, I want to continue to improve my physical health and lose weight. One goal I’ve already made public is that I want to run the Chicago half-marathon on 11 September this year. My plan is to hit my weight loss goals by the time, twelve weeks out, when I’ll need to focus my exercise on training for that half-marathon. I’ve also become acquainted with the Warrior Dash, which looks like a bunch of grimy, muddy fun. I’m not setting that as a goal, but it’d sure be fun to do.
Like last year, I again have that sense of marked joyous anticipation about what this new year will bring. I’m better equipped, I think, to actually achieve the goals I have set for myself; maybe better equipped than I’ve ever been. I may not hit them all–as has happened in the past–but if I can focus on humility, simplicity and sticking to the basics, I think I will experience a transfigurative year.
I can’t wait to see what God has in store.