By Beverly Chen

Reflections: Flourishing in the New Year

I recently attended Following Christ 2008, an InterVarsity-sponsored faculty, graduate student, and professionals conference. “Human flourishing” was the theme. Nearly 1,000 academics and professionals gathered for over three days to explore God’s vision for human flourishing in our world and within our specific disciplines. We began each morning with beautiful music and biblical teaching with N.T. Wright in the book of Colossians.

It seems fitting to reflect upon the theme of flourishing as I begin this new year. Like many of us, I generally start off with lofty goals and resolutions but without sustained discipline, these goals last for a few weeks or months at best. So, instead of giving myself a list of things to do, I thought I would reflect upon and continue to cultivate the practices that enable me to flourish.

The first thing that comes to mind is the gift of relational accountability with trusted friends and family members. I am most disciplined to make something a habit or to break a habit when I know someone else is invested in my growth. Studies show that behavioral change occurs 95% of the time when an individual both commits to the change and has accountability. The combination of accountability and prayers from dear friends certainly has been very powerful in giving me the strength to press forward.

Secondly, I want to continue in the discipline of gratitude. Interestingly, N.T. Wright emphasized the theme of gratitude and wisdom in Colossians. He says that “thankfulness is the deepest fruit of wisdom.” Gratitude is not always an easy thing to practice when I hit a wall and find myself in a financial, emotional, or spiritual slump. My spiritual director once challenged me to be thankful for three things daily. Even during my worst days, I’ve found that if I can begin my prayers with gratitude, my attention shifts from my complaints to the wonders I missed all around me that day. Most of the time, I see through my own tunnel vision and forget to look for the broader strokes of God’s workings all around me.

There is a beautiful metaphor that Thomas Green paints in his book, When the Well Runs Dry: Prayers Beyond the Beginnings, that has been extremely useful for me in looking for God’s action in and around me. He speaks of the prayer journey as moving from swimming to floating. In the beginning, our prayers can entail a lot of work and striving on our part. However, as we grow in our prayer and spiritual journey, prayer becomes effortless, like floating on water. It’s been extremely useful to see that when I am in the position of floating, the current of God’s grace carries me both in the moment as well as unto new possibilities! I am going somewhere and not stuck when I yield to the Spirit’s work in me. But, when I swim and strive for my next goal or destination, I often fail to look up at my spiritual compass. The emotional indicators of weariness, frustration and confusion usually alert me to stop swimming and look up. Gratitude is one of those disciplines that I am learning enables me to simply look up and float on water.

May your inner being flourish with gratitude in this New Year as you receive the gift of relational accountability and experience more of the wonders of the movement of God’s Spirit.

This reflection was originally published at Asian American Women on Leadership

Audio files of N.T. Wright’s talks on Colossians, as well as other presentations, are available at the FC08 website.

About the Author

Beverly Chen, MSW, LCSW, serves as Associate Dean of Student Emotional Health at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. She is also an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and has a private practice in Claremont.

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