I need to change my life for the better. Like working on healthier thinking, or a more gracious attitude, or better diet and exercise. (My family could easily name a dozen more needed changes.) My problem is that when I try my hardest, I seem to lose more ground than I gain.
Nine years ago, my friend Gary Barkalow asked me if I make New Year’s resolutions. I shared my decades of failures. Gary shared his. Neither of us had made a single resolution for years.
At the same time, we both liked the idea of improving some facet of life, leaving behind some ill-formed character trait and facing the future without its baggage. Anything to trigger that transition is great. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions never lit those fireworks in our lives.
Neither of us could ever remember a single time a resolution significantly changed our lives.
Gary suggested we find a positive pursuit that would transform us not just restrain us. We challenged each other to come up with a “Transcendent Pursuit” for the year 2011. It wouldn’t be a self-discipline; instead of curbing a “bad” we would invest in a “good.”
I chose to invest in two of my favorite words: reflect and express. The result was that year I published forty-two articles in fifty-two weeks. Before that year, I had published eighteen in the previous seventy-five weeks. It was the beginning of Beliefs of the Heart.
Notice What I Didn’t Do
I know there are discipline junkies out there who thrive in the willpower-world of New Year’s resolutions. But for the other seven and a half billion people on this earth, I want to suggest an empowering life-transformation instead of yet one more life-draining form of restraint.
Instead of devotion to discipline, let’s pursue a God-given curiosity. The first tries to shore-up a weakness, while the second personally engages us with God in a positive spiritual desire.
Ten years ago, I wanted to publish more articles more often. But the more I tried self-restraint, the more I failed. Notice that my Transcendent Pursuit never mentioned writing or regularity. Instead it encouraged me to spend my time in what God was stirring in my heart.
I devoted myself to a God-inspired curiosity and expression. The gift not the chore.
What Most Stirs Our Hearts?
In The Mind of The Maker, Dorothy Sayers said it like this:
When a job is undertaken from necessity, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains. But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker—strange as it may seem—in the guise of enjoyment.
Moralists will always judge that the sacrifice is more admirable than the joy, because the moralist (whatever he may pretend) has far more respect for pride than for love. I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. (slightly edited)
I don’t mean self-restraint is bad (and my family knows I need much more). Rather, the best way to let go of a bad habit is to embrace a positive pursuit that transforms us. So:
- What curiosity or spiritual love has God been stirring in your heart?
- What is the one spiritual truth you’d love to understand more deeply?
- What spiritual “season” has God put you in, and how can you cooperate more fully?
When I chose to embrace “reflect and express,” I found myself captivated by phrases I overheard in a coffee shop, passages that gripped my mind during prayer time, and stirring truths like hope and anxiety. The more I reflected on them in prayer, the more I expressed all I heard from God; without even trying.
Since that time, I’ve chosen a new Transcendent Pursuit every year. I’d like you to join me.
By the middle of February, most of us have already abandoned our resolutions for this year. It’s not too late to take a couple days and join together in engaging in a Transcendent Pursuit.
Let’s leave behind our Trivial Pursuits and seek the nobility of doing something “gladly out of sheer love of the job.”
P.S. Gary Barkalow and I have been practicing annual Transcendent Pursuits since 2011. If you want, you can join us by joining The Noble Heart Community and becoming a member of the Transcendent Pursuit group on that site. We help each other refine and dig deeper in each of our individual pursuits.