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To start talking about personal growth and improvement when you’re either stuffed so full of Celebrations and mince pies that you can hardly move, or you’re entirely burnt-out from yet another busy year of parenting, work and other commitments, will either come across as annoyingly trite or perfectly timed.
For me, the period between Christmas and New Year is set at a slightly slower pace than the rest of the year. Nothing much happens – and the things that do happen tend to be big family get-togethers where there are plenty of adults around to help with the kids, the main source of my exhaustion at other points in the year.
So it’s in these few days that I like to think of the year ahead, and how I’m going to care for myself, my family and my commitments. Self-care is important: without it, we cannot be sources of energy and life for those around us.
And yet we often make the mistake of doing the wrong things to take care of ourselves: occasional trips to a spa or luxury holidays. They’re nice, but we need regular, sustainable habits which will help us to keep hold of Life and even enjoy it in the year ahead. For me, the absolute basis for my mental health and general sanity is my faith. The more I learn about God, the closer I grow in relationship to Him, the better equipped I am to deal with all that life throws at me.
If you’re nodding your head in solidarity at this point, then – voila! – here are ten ideas for nurturing your faith in 2020. Don’t try to do them all! Just pick one which resonates with your needs right now, and which you know you can manage.
1.Commit regularly to a good church
This might sound a little obvious – surely it’s the first thing we want to do as Christians? But I know that when children come along, there are all sorts of reasons why we don’t make it to church as often as we’d like to.
Perhaps the church we were part of just doesn’t work for our growing family, or perhaps our child’s nap pattern clashes with the service time. As our children get older, there are sports teams and parties which threaten to take priority over church attendance. And this is before we consider illness, physical or mental, of parent or child or both. (Check out Parenthood and Church: Is it worth it when it’s so hard?)
Hear me when I say that I empathise. I really do. Being married to a vicar, I’ve had over a decade of being a ‘single parent’ in church: bringing my kids on my own, sitting with them, engaging them in what’s going on. Some weeks have been joyful – and other weeks I’ve wanted to burst into tears. It’s not easy going to church with children.
And yet it is so much more important than any other activity we could lead them in! I think sometimes we forget just how much of our children’s framework for life is being built by what we actively value in our family life.
Regular church attendance demonstrates, without even saying a word, the importance of a supportive church family when you’re on your Christian journey. It gives our kids a strong framework for their week, so that as they grow older they’re more likely to want to build their lives around their church, rather than to fit it in if convenient.
And let’s not forget that it’s good for US, too! We need the church like plants need sun and water. If you’re feeling stuck in your discipleship right now, could it be that you don’t feel settled in a church family?
(A little note here: while I don’t advocate switching churches regularly, if you really don’t feel like your church is the right place for your family, please let 2020 be the year when you find the right one. Leave graciously, explaining to your church leader why you’ve made your decision, and make the transition period as smooth as possible for your kids, i.e. try not to spend months church-hopping.)
2. Start a daily Bible reading habit
I did this in 2017. Fed up with complaining about ‘not having time’ to read my Bible, I realised that we make time for things we think are important, and therefore if I felt Bible reading was crucial to my life, I really needed to form a habit.
Supposedly, it only takes around three months to form a habit, so I thought how hard could it be??
I bought a copy of Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock, My Refuge. I really needed a dated devotional to help me form the daily habit of Bible reading which had been missing from my life for several years.
And that was it! I just got stuck in. Keller’s devotionals are great as the Bible passage is printed out for you, and the devotional itself is really bite-sized yet challenged. It’s not hard to fit this into your day, but it will really get you thinking.
In 2018 I followed Keller’s The Way of Wisdom, which goes through Proverbs, and which I also enjoyed. I would say it’s less consistent than My Rock My Refuge, largely because the Proverbs are so specific that some will be highly relevant, while others won’t be relevant at all. But the Psalms are more generically helpful, wherever you are in life.
3. Pray for your kids every day
I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’m terrible at persistent prayer (see Parenthood and Prayer). And yet I know that the four small people God has blessed me with are my priority for mission and discipleship. So why aren’t I praying for them??
There are many answers to that question, but let’s start with – uh – because I get easily distracted? Because I don’t know what to pray? Because I run out of ideas?
In 2019 I’ve been following Nancy Guthrie’s excellent Praying through the Bible for your Kids, and it’s been an amazing help. I love her reflections on Scripture, and the fact she gives so many examples of parenting, from newborns to adult kids. You’d enjoy this book as a first-time parent, or even as a grandparent – it’s that good.
4. Pray for one or two friends to come to know Jesus
Why am I not seeing God move in my friends’ lives? Why is He not breaking through as much as I’d love Him to?
The short answer is: I’m not sure. We can’t fully understand why God does or doesn’t act in certain situations – but if I’m not even praying for Him to act, then I guess that’s something I can at least change.
This is going to be my resolution for 2020, to commit to praying for one or two of my friends who are so open to Jesus and yet haven’t invited Him into their hearts just yet. There’s no formula to what God might or might not do if I start doing this – but I know one thing for sure: prayer changes the pray-er. I’m looking forward to what God teaches me, and how He changes me, through this resolution.
5. Join a weekly Bible study group
I’ve been in a parents’ Bible study group for nearly a decade now – in fact, most of that time has been spent leading one!
Hands-down, it’s been the most consistent factor of my own discipleship since becoming a mum. In the years when I didn’t get much spiritual food from elsewhere, it was my commitment to a weekly group which kept me going.
These days, my Wednesday morning group is full of wonderful mums who, in their own way, each appreciate the ‘haven’ that the group provides. An hour out of their busy lives to read, think, chat and pray together.
If you don’t already go to a group like this, why not ask your church leader what groups are available that suit you? If you’re working during the day, then see if there’s an evening group you could get to.
Check out Parenthood and Meeting Together for more!
6. Start a prayer triplet/accountability partnership
A few years ago, when a pastoral issue in our church starkly brought up my own lack of accountability, I got straight on my phone to message my two closest Christian friends to ask if they wanted to start a prayer triplet with me.
The issue in question had nothing to do with me, but it was a sharp reminder that, as someone who often leads worship and has an ‘upfront’ role at church, I am particularly vulnerable to temptation. But all of us, whatever our ministry, would benefit from the accountability of a close friend or two.
It took a couple of years for us to be able to meet regularly. We have eight children between us, three husbands, and busy lives, not to mention the usual round of illness, work problems, house moves and bereavement which affect everyone.
In these sparse, desert months, we kept in touch via WhatsApp, as well as any fragments of adult conversation and prayer requests that we could muster during playdates.
But this last September, as the youngest of our broods started school, we were able to start a monthly meet-up, which has been so encouraging to me. These girls will tell me when I’m being an idiot. They will keep my feet on the ground. They are gentle and wise and thoughtful, and my first port of call whenever I have a decision to make.
If you would appreciate this kind of ‘keeping on track’, have a think about who you could ask to join you in a partnership, triplet or even quad…go crazy!
7. Read an awesome Christian book
Many of you, I’m sure, will read several Christian books this year. But for those of you who don’t usually do this, or haven’t for a long time, where do you start? How do you know what book will be worth your investment?
To help you, here are my top recommendations from the last year or two.
The Father’s Kiss by Tracy Williamson is an awesomely encouraging book about the unconditional, passionate way that our Father God loves us. It is particularly good for those who didn’t have a strong father figure growing up, but really speaks to us all.
Catching Contentment by Liz Carter. I rattle on about this book so much, but that’s because it’s so good! As a sufferer of a chronic lung condition, Liz knows what it’s like not to be able to find ‘contentment’ in the usual human ways, so she’s had to plumb the depths of Scripture to find it in her faith. Suitable for any Western Christian, it will shake you out of complacency in a warm and gentle way. (And you can get a great feel for Liz’s style in the guest blog she wrote for me last month!) Read my review here.
Parenting with Words of Grace by William P. Smith. I read this in the summer and was particularly moved and challenged by the second half of the book. Such an interesting one to read in the throes of parenting! Read my review here.
Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo by Annie Willmot. Set to be released in January, I’m looking forward to reading this book by my friend Annie of Honest Conversation. She is honest, vulnerable and wise, and I know this book will give much food for thought!
8. Offer hospitality
You may think this a strange addition to this list, but I know two things about hospitality. 1) It draws us closer to God’s heart as we learn to reach out to others and truly listen to their stories. And 2) It is pretty difficult to do when we’re in the mess of early parenthood, struggling just to keep our own kids alive, let alone feed any extras.
Back in 2013, I made a resolution to have people round for Sunday lunch as often as was possible. We enjoyed doing it, but if we didn’t plan it into our week then Sunday would roll round with no invited guests and no meat to roast.
When we started at a new church in 2014, I was grateful for the habit we’d got into during 2013, as it enabled us to gradually have all the members of the congregation round for lunch. Some have been back plenty of times, others haven’t. But it helped us to start building relationships of trust with our new church family – relationships which we are still enjoying today.
Hospitality, wherever you are in life, takes some intentional planning. Or at least it does in our closed British culture. Could 2020 be the year when you make a decision to plan it into your schedule? It might not be Sunday lunch. It could be an evening meal on the 1st of every month? Or Saturday brunch? Or Friday pizza-and-movie?
9. Start a spiritual journal
Despite being a writer, I’ve never particularly got on with spiritual journals. I don’t have the patience for long stretches of handwriting, and the thought of dissecting my day, my thoughts and prayers at stupid o’clock every night doesn’t appeal.
But journalling doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t even have to be daily. If you benefit from writing things down, or feel like your head is over-crowded and needs unburdening, then writing things – getting them out of your mind – can be a great release.
If this is something you’re keen to try for 2020, why not motivate yourself further with one of these gorgeous journals from Hope & Ginger?
10. Find a podcast to feed your soul
The beauty of a podcast as a busy parent is that you can whack it on while you’re doing something else – filling the dishwasher or making dinner – and still keep track of what’s going on. Sometimes online sermons require intent listening and can be difficult to make focused time for.
Here are some podcast recommendations from me and others. Personally, I love Parenting for Faith with Rachel Turner – she’s down-to-earth, relateable, and very practical. There’s always something I can take away and try out immediately.
Then there’s Faith in Kids and Faith in Parents (access both right here) which many of you have recommended to me.
That Sounds Fun is hosted by Annie F. Downs, an American author who’s also a Christian, and who interviews lots of fabulous Christian leaders and creatives.
What are you resolving for 2020? Do share in the comments!