It’s the 21st century version of cleaning out my desk, I laughed to myself.
In the first week of this new year, I found I had amassed close to 500 notes on my computer’s memo pad since Christmas Day 2012. They were a motley assortment of recipes, song lyrics, notes from conversations, story snippets, seasonal activity ideas, and an occasional cryptic line — like “Change story to father. ‘You did.’” — that I could not decipher and yet hesitated to delete, for what if it should make sense to me five months from now?
It’s both a marvel and a millstone that I can hoard things on a screen.
I was barely five minutes into my task, however, when I came across an old bulleted list. Its first two points caught my attention immediately:
“1. I shall let the default meditation of my mind be the beauty of God’s earth, the reality of His Word, and His acts in the lives of His children: all things good and true and beautiful.
2. I shall not create for myself a mental arena—a ‘what if’ situation—where the power of God is curtailed or non-existent, and then foolishly dare myself to draw forth hope or survival.”
The list ran on, but — though I had forgotten its existence for months — I knew instantly what it was, and why I had written it.
They were statements inspired by an article titled “A Means to Mental Health,” by Clyde S. Kilby. Though best known for his work as an English professor and Inklings scholar, Kilby was no stranger to the blinding force of mental struggle. His insight and perceptiveness in this brief document resonated so strongly with me that I loved it from his first point.
I paused in my cleaning to read my own 2019 list again. Its range and choice of focus showed where my battle lines had fallen in the past year: the uncertainties that had taken me by the throat, the raw areas that had marked me with anxiety and grief.
After a pensive minute, I sat down to write a new set.
More than anything, at the threshold of this year, I want unshakeable peace. Like so many others, I don’t need any more well-meaning resolutions in my life; my ability to pull myself forward with the single yoke of my will is dismal. But I am praying to be resolute — “fixed, constant, firm,” as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it — because I’m realizing anew that this stance is the key to the mental rest that I seek.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3, ESV). Each one of the items below is a line to anchor my basis of rest for the next twelve months, a steadfast mooring to hold me to truths that storms tend to obscure. May they tether me well to the Keeper of the wind and waves.
1. As a hypochondriacal hobbyist, I shall accept the progressing brokenness of my body. I give thanks that I have the opportunity to wear it out through the length of my days, and that I have no need to preserve or pickle it as one who has no hope. I shall seek care when care is needed, but once that is done, I shall return to the welcome relief and the solemn charge of seeking Christ’s kingdom and righteousness first, taking Him at His word that He will attend to the rest.
2. I shall remember the story of Corrie ten Boom and her father’s train ticket, and not plead grace or strength for things that have not yet happened, and perhaps never shall.
3. I shall endeavor to discipline myself as a writer, remembering that to create is to join in the ongoing work and joy of my Maker. I shall not be ashamed of quietly investing time in things that do not have an immediate showing in the world, but I shall also not recoil from exposing my heart to be shot at, to borrow the apt words of Tolkien. I shall remember that the pieces in which I invest the most energy and time may not be the ones my Lord uses to have the greatest impact (and rightly so, for His wisdom and power are thereby seen in my weakness). And for this reason, I shall try to be faithful in writing down things as well as I can, and to release the ones that I think imperfect but which may be of some use.
4. I shall not give up trying to relay the air of my longed-for Home.
5. Rather than being a mere satellite in close orbit around my children, I shall sometimes seek invitation into their world and their thoughts, that I might simply steep for a moment in their perspective. I shall allow myself the privilege of reflecting upon the women they are becoming, and the girls they are today. As I care for them, I shall be mindful of my own position in a cosmos that contains a vast number of wonders too high for me to understand.
6. I shall continue to laugh with my husband over sundry matters, and unapologetically steal time to dance with him in the kitchen at the end of the day, or hold his hand while crossing a parking lot.
7. At least once every day, I shall observe keenly the food on the kitchen table, the pages of a current read, the notes and lyrics of a song, or the expressions of another person’s face or conversation. I shall keep and tend my small “book of beauties,” recording the evidence of God’s creativity, holy splendor, and lovingkindness toward me as one of His children, and I shall not neglect it.
8. Being mindful of my tendency to peer and plummet inward, I shall get outside and walk, as many days a week as possible, even if I cannot walk “in nature.” Regardless of the season, I shall watch for the carefully placed personal touches on our neighbors’ porches and the singular guests that visit our garden, whether they come on sprout or on wing.
9. I shall not give up meeting with friends or praying for the needs around me, no matter how far behind or lackadaisical I have been. I shall pay heed to the example of the tenth leper and remember to give thanks when a particular prayer has been answered or a particular mercy granted. Every once in a while, I shall count the things that are going well — in work, in body, in relationships — and give thanks for them.
10. I shall let the knowledge that I am loved prevail above all, no matter how loud or pressing other circumstances may be. I shall willingly and frequently be moved by the fact that I am even now headed Home, called by name, bearing the secure deposit of the Holy Spirit and nearing the day when I shall look on the face of my King and know Him in full. “Until He returns, or calls me home,” I will stand by grace and look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living. Here I am; and, as Elisabeth Elliot reminded her hearers often, underneath are the everlasting arms.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.
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