As I write this, dear Reader, we are in the middle of “Dead Week”, the week between Christmas and New Year, so called because nothing productive or worthwhile seems to happen in this week. Most people are on leave if they are lucky enough to have it, and the world seems to be sitting back to take a breather. While it is a week in which many of us are outwardly unproductive, if you’re anything like me, your mind is trying to work through the year that is behind while at the same time determining how to become a better version of yourself in 2023.
But what does that even mean? A better version of myself? And am I even the best judge of what that looks like? Are you? Can we put all of the new year’s resolutions and self-deprecation to bed and try something different as we end this year? In this post, I’ll be sharing three things that I hope will set you up for the best 2023 you could possibly have.
Every year around this time, I read Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”. I read it because I love the message of it. I love the idea that looking at our past, present, and future can change the course of our lives. I read it because if there’s hope for someone like Ebenezer Scrooge to change, then there’s definitely hope for me. If you’ve never read it, it’s a short read, and I recommend you get hold of it if you can. For those more visually inclined, Netflix has just released their own animated version. The main protagonist in the book, Ebenezer Scrooge has become a miser who lives for financial gain and has forsaken all relationships for the sake of more. As the book progresses, he is taken on a journey by three spirits. These spirits show him specific moments of his life, what has been, what is now, and what could be if the course of his life does not change. Dickens could have written a version of the story where Scrooge had an epiphany after a long bout of contemplation, but he didn’t, because I think we seldom find it within ourselves to change on our own.
I don’t believe any of us should reflect on the year that has been, take stock of where we are now, or even plan for our future alone. Why? Because often, when looking at our own lives, we may be blind to the truth or to the half-truths we have come to believe. Either we don’t see the glaring blind spots we live with, or we judge ourselves more harshly than we ought to (maybe you can relate?!?). Whichever camp you find yourself in, this can be solved by inviting a “spirit” into the walk through the past, present and future. Personally, I like inviting God and/or friends in on the journey. And when I do, it looks a little something like this:
- Leave 2022 in 2022 (Looking back)
As I meditate on the year behind me, I like to start with a prayer that goes something like: “God, would you silence the voice of the enemy and my own unhelpful thoughts and help me to hear only your opinion over my life as we think on this year together. Amen!” I can then start to ask some questions: “What were my victories this year? What were the wins in 2022? Do I feel like I’m further along in the journey than I was last year this time? Which goals did I reach? Which didn’t I reach? What were the losses? What do I want to leave behind as I move into the new year?” As we meditate on the answers to these questions, there is a beautiful comingling of our own recollections and the truth that God wants to come and shine on those moments. As we contemplate the joys, the grief, the opportunities both relished and squandered, we are able to unpack the “luggage” of our hearts and remove the items that no longer benefit us. Can I be honest? I am ending this year a little bit rounder than I started it. Normally, I would chastise myself for the weight gained and my negative self-talk would kick in, but I’ve decided that I am no longer taking that voice with me as I journey into 2023. I am “unpacking” it from the luggage I choose to carry. Because what that voice neglects to include in its narrative is the fact that it’s been an incredibly hard year for my family in terms of health. We’ve been sick for long stretches thanks to our little one’s first year in pre-school (IYKYK). This has affected our eating habits, the regularity of our workouts and our general mental wellbeing. Unpacking the unhelpful thoughts, narratives and emotions from the year is a great start, but can I encourage you to replace those with new narratives that sow hope and encouragement? In my case, the narrative I’m adopting is a more positive one, a kinder voice that says: “The only way to go from here is up!” (Or down, as it were – a little weight loss humour.) What do you need to unpack from your luggage? What unhelpful thinking or judgements are not helping you as you seek to move forward in 2023? Identify these and ask God to help you throw off what is unhelpful and only to take those things that are true, helpful and kind into the new year.
- Practice Thankfulness (The Present)
So many people I’ve spoken to are spending this week wracked with anxiety for the coming year, so much so that it’s robbing them of the rest they need to make a great start. For the next seven days, could you spend some time every day thinking of at least one thing you are thankful for. I believe that a posture of thankfulness can make all the difference as we take our first steps into 2023. If all we can see is the work, the stress, the challenges then we will be unable to walk confidently into all that God has in store for us. Maybe it’s been a very difficult year for you and you’re reading this thinking that there is absolutely nothing to be thankful for. Can I invite you to ask God to come and show you the truth about that statement, and to come and show you one thing, just one thing to start with, that you have to be thankful for. In the words of Dickens: “Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” As we meditate on our present, let’s do it through a lens of thankfulness. You may just find that your anxiety, fear and stress starts to dwindle as you do.
- Dream with God over 2023 (Looking ahead)
So, you’ve taken time to shuck off the unhelpful narratives, judgements and baggage you were carrying from the year and you’ve taken stock of all there is to be thankful for in your life at the moment. That just leaves the “Ghost of Christmas Future”. What are your dreams for 2023? What do you hope for? For a long time my life felt out of my control. Like there was no point in dreaming, because life was just going to happen anyway. But I realised this was such a defeatist, cowardly way to live. It also revealed something about how I saw God and His plans for my life. I didn’t want to dream because I didn’t want to be disappointed. But I also thought that God didn’t care about the dreams I had in my heart. I mean, He was just going to do whatever He wanted right? The problem with this thinking is that while it spares me some disappointment, it also robs me of all joy for the future. God does care about the desires of my heart, after all, he placed a lot of those desires there. Take some time to find a quiet space. Breathe deep and ask the question: “God, what are your dreams for me for 2023?” And then listen. Write down anything you hear, It may surprise you! If you hear nothing, don’t sweat it, share some of what’s in your heart with Him and then do something unbelievably brave: Submit it all to Him, giving Him the right and opportunity to reroute any of your plans. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go down any road that God hasn’t prepared for me. Once you’ve done that, pray for the year ahead. Pray for God’s presence and peace and joy to be in every moment. Pray for significant relationships. Pray for growth. And trust God for one of the most significant years you’ve every had!
So that’s it dear reader, the way to a far more significant 2023. Are you ready for it? I know I am. If this post has encouraged you at all, take the time to drop a comment below and on social media and to share it with those around you. I’d also love to hear some of what you’re dreaming for in 2023. If you’re willing to share, drop me an email at [email protected] and I promise to pray with you into it.