At this time of year, I see them every time I open a website: ads for planners. Planners with beautiful artwork; planners with gold rings; planners with minimal text; planners that follow the liturgical calendar; planners that have prompts for every thought process you might need to go through over the next day, week, month, or year.
Don’t get me wrong: I love beautiful paper products, including paper planners. I routinely map out holidays, traditions, goals, and plans on paper. I think better on paper; I think most people do, as it’s an embodied way of going about things that a screen just can’t replace. Plus, who doesn’t love an excellent, well-made pen? Just the right feel, just the right weight, and balance — it’s lovely.
At some point in the next month, you might fall into a trap. I know this because I frequently do. The trap is lined in filigreed margins, dotted with bullet points, and sealed with beautiful stickers. The planner industry — and the efficiency experts behind it — are going to remake your life and your identity by their definitions. Those definitions might go something like this:
- You are a lump of clay waiting to be made.
- You are a quantifiable entity, able to be captured in numbers and data.
- You are what you achieve.
- You are the center of the universe.
- Your worth is determined in relation to the other people around you. Take your pick where these people may be: your Instagram feed, your office, your playgroup, your neighborhood, your family, or your church.
Oh sure, no one is actually going to come out and say these things. But they will use words and phrases like “the best year yet,” or “remake yourself,” or “achieve your goals,” or “a fresh start,” or “a clean slate.”
And though at times I use, and even welcome, these ideas, I am here to caution you — and me.
The uncomfortable truth is that bad habits from last year followed you into this year, and they might follow you into next year also. Many people I know who would scorn Joel Osteen’s teaching of Your Best Life Now, as it’s a veiled prosperity gospel, still buy into it in some measure. They’re into achieving peak performance right now! Efficiency! Winning the day!
The thing is, this is not the path to obedience or sanctification that I’ve witnessed at work in the Christian life. Just as the road to hell is marked by a series of little turnings, a gradual descent, the road to sanctification is marked by a series of little uphill battles, a little endurance, and the occasional battle won. It is not the fast-track version of efficiency that the world, as well as many in the church, want to sell you.
This is true in relationships, as well. Evangelism and discipleship would look very different for the 21st-century church if we made peace with the fact that there are seasons to things, there is gradual progress through time, and we only reap what we sow. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen Christians grow angry over the lack of perceived “progress” in people around them, and they end the relationship. Others are just not bearing fruit as fast as they’d like, so they give up on them. Instead of awareness of slow growth and the patient work of God in themselves, they manifest impatience. They’re done trying; they’re moving on.
To be truthful, I have also done this at times.
This is not how God the Father deals with us. Consider Nehemiah 9:17 as just one example of God’s patience with His people:
They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
As we consider the upcoming year, let us remember that people are not products or measurable goals. Let us be patient, kind, and faithful as our Father in heaven is, to ourselves and to those around us. And may we never confuse efficiency with fruitfulness. The first is what the world lauds; the second is brought forth by the Holy Spirit in God’s economy, at His bidding, in His time.