It’s January, the month of new beginnings. It’s a good time to sort out our treasures and trash. We do it at Christmas, when we carefully pick through the discarded wrapping paper to make sure no treasure is thrown away with the trash. We do it again as we put away our Christmas decorations. Some of the old decorations have become too soiled, some ornaments got broken, and some of the strings of lights became strings of darks. We throw out the trash, but we carefully store the treasures.
It is also a good time to look at our lives. What are the treasures from this last year? Often, they are the moments and experiences made valuable by the grace of God at work in our lives and others. And the trash? That’s those moments, words, or thoughts we recall with embarrassment, disappointment, and sometimes guilt.
It can be hard to tell the difference between trash and treasure. Our minds can play tricks on us. My husband keeps a kind of mental tally of meetings he has conducted: good ones in the plus column, and those he perceived as failures in the minus column. But occasionally someone talks to him, years after a meeting, telling him how much it helped. What he thought was trash, was really treasure.
Even so, most of the time we have a pretty good idea about what to keep and what to toss. So, let’s think about that in a few different parts of life.
Many people make resolutions about what they will do, or not do in the coming year. We prayerfully considered the changes we wanted to see in 2017. And we started well. But life got crazy, the urgent clamored for our attention, and we started slipping back into the old patterns.
Take, for example, social media. We determined to silence our phones- to stop being victims of the buzz, the ring, the chirp.
Generally, we know when messages need immediate attention. The trick is being able to curb the impulse to interrupt everything, even very important conversations, to answer the ones that should wait.
Let’s renew our commitment to free our lives of digital bondage and garbage. Let’s create media free times of the day. Let’s not get caught in Facebook when there are real faces that need our attention. At first it may cause some anxiety. “Maybe I’ll miss something!” “She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” If necessary, inform those around you that you won’t answer your messages right away, but you promise to write back later. Attentiveness is a treasure. Obsession is trash.
What are some things you did with your family this year that are part of your treasure? Did you learn more about the land where you serve, the people, and their customs? Did you experience surprising grace from someone in your host country? Those kinds of experiences enhance our passion for the work we are doing, and our love for the people we serve.
Maybe you started some new patterns of connection with each other- times and ways you let each member of the family feel special and cared for. Some of us may remember special moments, unexpected moments, when a new dimension of our marriage unfolded. These are treasures to keep, cherish, and develop.
Worthy Thoughts and Worthless Thoughts
Are there some attitudes we picked up this year that we’d be better off without? Here’s an example. After my dad’s death in October, I found in myself some unforgiveness. It was not for what someone did to me. It was what they did to someone I dearly loved. The harm was not done to me, yet I was harboring unforgiveness. I have laid this at Jesus’ feet and am endeavoring to live in the forgiveness I know pleases my Lord.
Have you found yourself becoming intolerant or impatient? Selfish? Cultural stress can create the right conditions for those attitudes. We always remember a worker in our host country who referred to the people here as, “Stupid ______________.” That man needed to take out the trash. Maybe you and I do, too.
On the other hand, are there good attitudes that have grown this year? Do you see increasing tenderness for those less fortunate? This is a treasure. Have you developed, by God’s grace, a new appreciation for some people you work with? More treasure.
Words: Jewels or Rubbish?
Our Bible says so much to us about our speech. Words can be pleasant, like honey, or bitter like vinegar. Words can bless or curse. Let’s consider our word patterns to see what we treasure and what we need to toss out.
What words of encouragement or help have you received this year? Treasure these words. Don’t just set them aside and forget them. Let those words of encouragement have a special place in the house of your heart. Remember who said them. Remember the occasion. And let your soul find new strength in them.
Especially remember what your Father, God, has said to you this year. In different ways according to our need, His Spirit speaks to us. What has He said to you?
However, James reminds us that the same fountain that springs up with reviving water can, sadly, spew out poisons. If there are any words in your vocabulary that you know are trash, this is the time to throw them away. When they creep into your conversation again; stop, apologize, and replace them with a blessing.
Treasures from God
As always, our greatest treasures come from God. Maybe like me, you saw him provide exactly what you needed when you needed it. As I mentioned, my dad died in October. Even though I knew the moment was coming (he was 94) it still hit me hard. But in that sorrow, I have treasures . . . more than I can mention. God gave me, through His people, money that gave me peace about extra expenses that came up. He gave me a word that brought peace in a stressful situation. He bathed me in comfort when grief could have weighed me down.
So, as we begin our new year, let’s take some time to treasure our treasures and toss out our trash. 2018 is waiting for us.