Contemplating The Year I've Lived

I don't set New Year's Resolutions. As much as I believe in the idea of a goal, I have an intense mental resistance to them. I don't like them! I often fight against them out of sheer spite.

But I do love contemplating the coming year. What kind of year would I like to have? How do I want to be living my life? Having a sense of who I am and what I care about is a form of direction-setting I tend to do well with.

In preparation for that, this time around I want to contemplate the year I've already lived. As I'm doing that, a few things are coming to mind.

I am a stronger person than I was 12 months ago.

I carried a new kind of weight this year that I was not used to carrying. And it was really heavy.

You've likely carried a heavy weight this year too. Most of us had no choice.

Aside from circumstances I had no option to choose, I purposefully dove into some murky waters. I don't know if I've ever felt less safe. But I knew this was a dive I needed to take to become stronger, instead of letting myself actively shrink.

And I broke down. A few times. Many times, actually. With a chunk of savings I had stashed away, I saw a licensed therapist to learn how to handle my anxiety. I simply couldn't do it alone anymore. I've struggled with anxiety since my teenage years, and rather than handling it better as I aged, I just got worse. So I finally got help.

And just in time, too. Because the scary things I did this year have felt like some of the most important things I have ever done.

Why does it work that way? Why do so many important things have to make us so uncomfortable?

Whatever the reason, that heavy weight combined with the nourishment I received from qualified help have made me noticeably stronger. The weight feels reasonable now, and I'm almost ready for more.

Almost. Perhaps not quite.

I demand less of myself after these past 12 months.

Yet, ironically, feel much more put-together.

When I say I demand less of myself, I mean I have a clearer idea of what's important to me and what's not. And I'm focusing on what's important, and refusing to force myself to squeeze in the less important things too.

The biggest impact has come from clearing away guilt over things that shouldn't make me feel guilty.

For instance:

  • No more guilt for telling my children to wait 10 minutes so I can finish a task before I make lunch. In the past, I might have made them wait, but now I don't feel badly about it.

  • No more guilt for getting rid of things I don't want. Even if other people think I'm crazy. (I gave away my crock pot!)

  • No more guilt for letting my children's father take care of the 2-year-old's tantrum by himself. As if he needed my help anyway. . .

There are some things that are more difficult to clear guilt from, like disappointing people I care about, or standing up for myself when it provokes an angry response. Not only do those things make me feel guilty, they make me feel scared.

I have been courageous these past 12 months.

There were several moments in which I worked hard to be courageous. And I am so proud that I made it through.

This is a tiny little blog, so no one notices, but I haven't written a single thing - not even a Facebook status - in well over a month.

That's because written words have reaped the biggest pain for me this year. Several of the posts here on this little blog brought me criticism and disapproval from places that I've historically leaned on for validation. Same with social media posts.

This wasn't surprising to me - I expected it to some extent. But it's been more painful than I thought it would be.

When I wrote about not wanting this blog to be about motherhood, I knew some people would have an issue with the way I was talking. And they did.

When I wrote about harmful modesty culture and gender teachings in the church, I knew that would invite disdain and criticism. And it did. Criticizing those theologies is enough to get many people kicked out of their church communities. (Talk about needing courage...)

And when I spoke about politics... well, no one is surprised when that draws contention.

Yet I made a list of all the pieces that made people upset, and *every single piece* was one that I found to be among the most important. Each one was a piece that I spent copious time and energy on. I wrote each one out of burning wish to do so. Each one drew more gratitude from readers than my average posts. I poured my soul into those pieces.

After I wrote the series about the harmful theologies surrounding strict modesty culture in our churches, I had dozens of women - women from the church - thank me profusely for speaking up about this. I was flooded with stories, and I really wasn't expecting that!

These weren't stories about being annoyed by these gender and modesty theologies.They were stories about how these theologies had led to - and excused - sexual dysfunction and rape. Some of these women were raped repeatedly, several of them as children, often by family or fellow church members. To add insult to injury, these teachings were then used to place blame on the abused women and children's shoulders. Unfortunately, very successfully.

But aside from the expressions of gratitude I received for speaking up about these harmful and false theologies, I also got a virtual slap on the hand for the way I wrote them. I was asked to be nicer. That triggered my first anxiety attack of the year.

My friends, I learned some very interesting and important things from these experiences. First, that I couldn't manage my anxiety alone - what I was doing wasn't working. So I saw a licensed therapist. Second, I learned that I have a tendency to assume if people don't respond well to what I say, I must have said something wrong. Even if every fiber of my intuition tells me that's not true.

It feels like a safety mechanism. Something in my brain tells me that it's safer to conform to someone else than it is to stand on my own. Yet another part of my brain feels betrayed when I sacrifice discernment for dependency. Inevitably, anger and resentment build, and I stay quiet when I have something important to add to the conversation of the world around me.

Historically I have seen myself as pathetic for being anxious and afraid. This became increasingly challenging after marrying my husband. He is uncommonly natural at handling stress and is incredibly confident. The contrast between our personalities is stark.

I have been changing in this area though, and I now recognize the incredible strength it takes to do things that scare you. Instead of feeling weak because I am anxious, I allow myself to feel strong because I've stared fear in the face and I'm still here.

On a lighter note, I enjoy being home more than I did 12 months ago.

If you've read this blog before or if you grew up with me, you know I care about living in a tidy space!

Always have, always will.

I do some sort of decluttering at least twice a year, but this fall I tried something new and sorted every single item I own and have never felt more satisfied with a tidying job.

I donated 3 trunk loads of stuff, and threw away around 10 full garbage bags. I didn't know I had enough stuff in my house to make that possible.

I experienced a mindset shift about the things I want to keep. And focusing on what I wanted to keep instead of what I could discard was, in fact, the trick. Instead of getting rid of things so I'd feel less crowded, I got rid of things to allow space for what I genuinely wanted to have in my house.

And it feels so good to actually like my belongings now.

I don't even mind some of the clunky furniture I used to complain about. Or the awkward, dated features in my house. They don't bother much now that I know that everything in my house is here because I want it and it makes my life better.

I don't even feel the need to hit up the Container Store to spend hundreds of dollars on organizing systems! (Which I was fully prepared to do.)

I was very purposeful about the stuff I cleared away. I went Marie Kondo style. I have so much to say about this that I really will have to write an entire post about this experience!

I'll sum up for now by saying that I misunderstood what Marie Kondo was about. If you think, like I did, that the KonMarie method forces you to get rid of all your favorite things and become a minimalist, I have good news for you - it doesn't! It does make it easier to make decisions, to enjoy the things that you own (even if you can't buy new stuff), and to respect other people's space.

I like my house now. It makes me happy.

There was a really weird side effect though. I don't feel very tempted to buy all the cute things I see at Target anymore. . . . Strange, I know, but I feel satisfied enough enjoying it's cuteness right there on the Target shelf!

I'm still not going to make New Year's resolutions. I'll be contemplating how I want to live in this coming year but there won't be a checklist, as usual.

What about you? Will you have a checklist? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!