By Andrea Bridges

Cultivating New Things: A Letter from the Editor

I love making lists. A list solidifies and settles those things that are known but bouncing around in my brain: ingredients needed from the grocery store or items to accomplish in a given week or day or hour. A list is a thing of beauty. 

However, there is one type of list that drives me crazy: New Year’s Resolutions. It seems to be a thing to make resolutions in February vs. January 1, so I haven’t missed the boat, but my resolutions feel vague — things I maybe want to do or feel like I should do, but whose path is not so clear. Eat healthier. Be kinder. Write a book. 

When I sit down to think about these lists (even after a bonus month for reflection), I get frustrated and annoyed and mired in existential ennui. What DO I want or hope for this year? What actually needs to get on my list to accomplish those things? There are lots of helpful articles out there, like this one and this one from Gretchen Rubin. But, ultimately, I’m asking: What HAS God called me to do, and how do I know? And, what does that actually look like in my life?

Although I can get clear on the really big picture goals (“Glorify God, and enjoy him forever”) and can even get another level in (“build a family” or “serve as editor of The Well”). And, I’m usually definite on my daily tasks (“drive children to school” or “reply to email” or “buy sandwich bread”).

There’s a middle ground that I’m not quite so good at. It’s the layer where resolutions germinate, the place where we sense a calling that is so fresh it hasn’t yet generated urgent tasks for my list.

How can I identify this new calling and cultivate it into maturity? 

The letter to the Colossians has something to say here — not directly about list-making or goals, but about what happened when Jesus became a person, and what difference that makes in the world — and in my life of checklists.

Paul tells the Colossians: all things are created through and for Jesus, and all things are brought close to God through him — including us! This is good news, and it makes a difference in our lives and in the whole world. We are loved. God is with us. We can respond by living in God’s new ways of life.

What needs to be done is transformed by the freedom found in Christ. Good news! God is here. And now we can go and live. We grow into followers of Jesus through our connection with Jesus. We grow as God causes us to grow.

This is a beautiful vision, but it sometimes feels a little hazy. I want something more clear, and maybe a little more obviously counter-cultural (see existential ennui, above). But I’m trying to learn that God’s love for the world is radical. Jesus — the creator of the world, with a physical body — is radical. This is a deep, deep love that grows new things.

And, one of those new things is my life. The middle level of goals — the way we execute the things God has called us to do — come through discernment, which is a not-very-straightforward answer to the question of what I should put on my list?

Does all this help me make plans for the year? Sort of. It reminds me that God has made and is making my life, and the tasks of that life come from a connection with God. As I think about this year, I can listen for God’s leading and put those things on my list. They may be spiritual things. They may be professional goals. They may be interpersonal. God made you alive with Christ, and that life grows as God causes it to grow — in the big picture things, the details, and the middle spaces.

The articles at The Well the past month have explored ideas that may have invitations for you — peacemaking, vocation, gratitude and connection, racial justice, spiritual direction, feeding ourselves, mental health, our interaction with digital technology. As you think about the things God is growing in your life, maybe there is an idea for you here. What new thing is growing on your list right now?

About the Author

Andrea Bridges works in the Graduate College at the University of Illinois. She is a former Editor at The Well and believes words can create connection over space and time. Andrea has an MDiv from Duke Divinity School and lives in Urbana, Illinois with her husband, Matt, three kids, and one dog. You’ll often find her in the garden or cheering at various youth sports.

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