I don’t know when I’ve been more thankful for the arrival of spring. Winter seems like it’s lasted a really long time.
I know we had spring last year – I remember sitting outside on my porch and enjoying nice weather. But the joy of spring was mixed in with the COVID, masks, economic downturn, and all the uncertainty that a global pandemic provides.
This spring, I know that corona is still around, but somehow the air feels a little bit different. There is a little more hope of possibility and renewal, and maybe even a little more lightness in my step.
I’m learning not to take these seasons of hope and renewal for granted. After weathering so many unexpected storms the past few years, I’m learning not to take stability for granted. Seasons of stability and chances for renewal are gifts to be received rather than the norm to be expected like I once thought.
So if you, like me, are excited and thankful for the hint of spring filling the air and want a way to dive right in, here are a few ways I like to open myself up to renewal:
Choose a different way to pray. I can get into a rut in my prayer life faster than anything else. I’ve found it’s good to pray in different rhythms in different seasons. If I am stuck forming my own prayers, it is helpful to use a sure-footed guide. Books that are forming and guiding my prayers this season are The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle and The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers.
Keep a Gratitude Journal. The past few months, each night before I go to bed, I’ve been writing down five specific things I am thankful for from that day. I’m noticing that it is keeping me expectant and looking for moments of renewal and thankfulness throughout my day. The gratitude journal I’ve been using is one my friend, Kori Biller, gave me. It’s currently sold out, but another good option is from Ink and Volt.
Think through your daily routine and do one thing differently. I am a creature of habit. Habits can be a good thing if they keep us moving towards the things that matter most. But they can also keep us stuck and resistant to change that is good for our brains and our bodies. This spring, one morning a week, I am getting up early and going to the gym with my husband to exercise. And I mean early. How Jason Baker consistently gets up and leaves the house at the hour he does is a mystery to me, but I decided to try it one time a week with him. I’m discovering this one small change is giving me the ability to look at the rest of my habits differently and be open to change in other areas of my life as well.
Read a good book…outside. Like most people, I love to be outside this time of year. I’ve found that spring is always a good time for me to sit in a lawn chair, stretch out on a blanket, or plop down on the grass in the middle of the the day and read for twenty minutes while soaking in the spring air. Not only does it force me to be still, but it helps me to pay attention to and enjoy the season of spring around me. Two good reads this spring are I am enjoying right now are Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn and The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions by Emily P. Freeman.
Spend time with your neighbors. I know this is all something we learned and valued during COVID, but it’s something I don’t want to forget to value as the pace of life returns to “normal” once again. Some of the sweetest moments of last year occurred on the front lawn with my neighbors. Lifetime friendships were formed as we learned to love and support one another, and we saw so many changes in each other’s lives for the good. Changes I would have missed if I had stayed inside. So this spring, don’t forget to go spend time getting to know the people on who live in closest proximity to you.
Remember that the end is in sight. If the past year has taught me one thing, it is this: seasons were made to change; they do not last forever. So whatever season you are in, notice it. Be aware. And dive right in. We’ve been in winter a long time, but where the snow is melting and green is pushing through, don’t miss it. Grab it. Receive it. Seize the day, and step into the rhythms of renewal while the season lasts. Spring awaits.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
My friend Margaret, never one to mince words, sent me a text a few weeks ago that said, “Buy this book right now.” She provided a link in her text to the book, and since I’m not one of those mere mortal fools that dares to disobey Margaret, I bought the book without even really looking at the title or knowing what it was about. No questions asked.
When it came in the mail several weeks ago, I began to slowly explore its contents and can’t tell you how thankful I am Margaret sent me that text.
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, a book by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile outlines a map of the human personality that has been around for hundreds of years. “Some trace its origins back to a Christian monk named Evagrius, whose teachings formed the basis for what later became the Seven Deadly Sins, and to the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century, who used it for spiritual counseling” (Cron and Stabile, The Road Back to You). Cron and Stabile take an ancient pattern for counseling people according to their personalities and frame it in fresh, new light that is easy to understand and apply.
I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of how the book uses the Enneagram to categorize and define the nine different personality types represented on the Enneagram, but suffice it to say if I had any doubts about if this personality tool was effective, I was floored two pages into finding the personality type that best described my own. Dumbfounded would actually be a better word.
“So there is actually a reason I act this way!” and “Other people actually act this way too; it’s not just me!” were just a few of the exclamation points running around in my head.
What I failed to heed in the introductory chapters to the book was the warning that “[a]t times, you will feel that we’re focusing far too much on the negative rather than the positive qualities of each [personality]. We are, not only to help you more easily discover your type. In our experience, people identify more readily with what’s not working in their personalities than with what is. As Suzanne likes to say, ‘We don’t know ourselves by what we get right; we know ourselves by what we get wrong.’ Try not to get all pouty.”
I jumped into the Enneagram thinking it would be the key to telling me how great I was, but oh how wrong I was. I got a little pouty. Each personality type is specifically connected to one of the seven deadly sins, and the book shows clearly and accurately how this sin can wreak havoc in a life who has not let grace in or done the hard work of sanctification and transformation. The Enneagram felt more like an enema and bears an uncanny and unfortunate similarity to the word.
But when I was neck deep in despair about all the negatives that go along with my make-up (and that were oh-so-painfully-accurate), I flipped back to the introduction and re-read the warning and felt a little better. Every personality type was feeling like I was; it wasn’t just me (hopefully).
So why in the world would I recommend to you to buy and read a book that will make you feel so down in the dumps about yourself? Because remember last week’s blog? God doesn’t come to us to slay us, but nor does He come to flatter us. He comes to show us to show us the truth about who we are so that we can cut the cancer out, get rid of the tumor that is killing us, and set us free to be healthy, whole, and healed.
As you sit and pause at the beginning of a new year, the beginning is always a good time to take true stock of who you are. Not of who you wish you were. Or who you think you are. But of who you really are. Because if you and I ever want to become the people we want to be or others around us need us to be, we have to be humble enough to recognize and admit our real selves, rather than our pretend selves. And that takes humility, repentance, confession, surrounded by the holding, comforting knowledge of unconditional love. We can face who we are because Someone faces us who has promised to never turn away. In fact, when you begin to do the hard and humble work of beginning to get rid of all the dirt, you will look up beside you and see the Son of Man scrubbing right along beside you. There is no work too humble that He will not stoop to do, especially when it involves someone He loves.
Flannery O’Connor wrote, “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”
“Coming face-to-face with your deadly sin can be hard, even painful, because it raises to conscious awareness the nastier bits about how we are that we’d rather not think about.” Very hard. “But no one should fail to do so if what they seek is deep knowing of self” (The Road Back to You). But very true.
If we do one thing this year, it should be to come to a deeper knowledge about ourselves so that we can interface at a deeper, more truthful level with God. “Let it be the real me that speaks to the real You,” writes C.S. Lewis. If it’s not the real me speaking, then I am in self-deception about myself, my faults, and even my strengths. And if it’s not the real God I am praying to, then we must make certain we know who He really is, for the very state of our eternal souls depends upon it.
If the Enneagram and The Road Back to You isn’t for you, that’s fine. But find something that is. Find something that speaks the truth about your soul to your soul. The truth that tells you who you really are so that you can deal with your real self before the only true, real God. Everything else in your life depends upon it.
So heed Margaret’s advice to “Buy this book right now.” And while you might feel a little pouty in the process, like me, you will be thankful in the end.
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