As 2013 comes to a close I’ve decided to take a moment to look back on it. While most people focus mainly on setting resolutions and new goals, I believe it greatly beneficial to reflect back and see what’s been learned along the previous year’s journey. When one looks at others it is often easier to spot change. We see them less often, certain things stand out, and changes are more apparent, more obvious. When we look at ourselves, however, we see a constant reflection. And as change is gradual (most change anyway), we sometimes struggle to notice it, whether it be in habit, in personality, or even in size. But, there are many ways that we grow and evolve over the course of a year. We learn in various arenas, and that’s what I’ve tried to hone in on, if at all possible. One area we learn about is the grand arena called life. We learn about the world, the way it works, how to maneuver ourselves through it. We take things away from our experiences and we draw from the people that cross our paths. As a Christian, I’ve also tried to determine what else I’ve learned about God this year. Our infinite Creator is boundless and unknowable, but He does reveal Himself to us. While it’s impossible to comprehend Him completely, we get glimpses, and those glimpses are priceless. Lastly, I’ve tried as best as I could to see what I’ve learned about myself this year. Like the people and places around us, we also change. To know oneself better is a powerful tool, and if we can spot our own weaknesses, it allows us to improve in those areas, or at least to attempt to. This is why reflection is so necessary.
I think that overall this was a huge learning year for me. I stepped out of my comfort zone and that allowed me to grow and learn in a lot more ways than had I stayed in my box. I encourage all of you to do just that: step outside of your box. For those of you who don’t know, I left comfy Southern California last March and headed to the Southern Hemisphere to teach English in Chile. What awaited me there was a whole new environment: different language, different climate, different culture, different everything. Right there you have a recipe for change. At first, it took me a while to open up, to relax. I was almost always uptight; about teaching, about missing stuff back home, you name it. But as the weeks passed I began to realize that I wasn’t going to learn anything that way. I was subconsciously clutching to my old ways, and anyone who clutches to old ways will not grow because they aren’t allowing themselves to be stretched or challenged. Once I let my walls down a little bit, I began to grow. I met new people, witnessed new wonders, and lived new things, and I think that should always be a goal, no matter who you are or where you live. If you do the same thing every day or have the same routine every week, you’re not really living. You’re repeating. Even if your circumstances require you to be in the same places at the same times, try to shake it up. Meet new people, see new sights, wonder new things, read new books, whatever it may be. You’ll learn things you never knew before.
One huge thing that I learned this year is to be content with whatever I have, be it much or little. Like Paul wrote about to the Philippians, we should learn to be content with what we have. Many people know and cite the verse, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” but they often forget what comes right before it. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” That’s Philippians 4:11-13. It wasn’t that I was “in need” while in Chile, but compared to the fortunate and cushy life I live in the States, I had less. One of my favorite bands, Downhere, sings the lyric, “Little is much, when God’s in it,” and that couldn’t be more true. When we learn to trust God wherever we’re at in life, we’re in a good spot. Whether wealthy or poor, monetarily speaking, true riches lie in knowing Christ. And if we entrust our lives to Him, He will take care of us. All things are possible with Him.
That leads into the second big thing I learned this year. I guess I wouldn’t say it’s a new thing, but rather a relearning of sorts. At the beginning of my time in Chile I dealt with the whiplash, if you will, of being so swiftly removed from everything I knew. The lack of friends and family to lean on led to a new type of loneliness that I hadn’t experienced before. It wasn’t a depressed kind of loneliness; it was just different. And in that time I realized that God is always there for me. He’s like the good friend that never abandons you. He’s always there when you need Him. And though it takes some time and practice, one really can learn to converse with God, even when He doesn’t audibly speak back. Pressing into Him is best thing we can do. He truly is a refuge and He really does make our paths straight. He comforts and guides, and there’s no need to freak out if you’re in uncharted waters. And that’s exactly what I learned this year. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and step back in again. You’re not drowning or dying, and you’re certainly not alone. Lean into God like you’ve never done before and find a peace that you’ve never known before.
Thankfully, I learned something about myself this year that I didn’t like. I found an area to improve on. It was quite humbling, and I’m so glad it happened, even though it stung at first. I’m finding it a little difficult to explain in words, but I’ll give it a go… In having an argument with a friend I realized that I sometimes put my own pride first. I admit that I like to be right, like anyone does, but I’m also a soft-spoken guy. I won’t go into an argument unless I really believe I’m right. But when you argue about something trivial it’s not so important the issue but rather how you handle the argument. I was very humbled in realizing the size of my own pride. And as ironic as it sounds, I’ve always prided myself on being humble. I don’t like to boast or brag. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I like to be modest and gracious. But I realized a great defect of mine, and that is this: if I feel hurt or attacked in an argument, I subconsciously retaliate. If I feel wounded by words, I make sure my words hurt back. And this is not a good thing. Even if I’m in the wrong, I realized that I was trying to make the other person feel what I was feeling, be it humiliation, pain, or simple defeat. Arguing with the sole aim of winning the argument is not what arguing is about. If you do this, you argue wrong. The aim of arguing is supposed to be finding the right answer, or the truth. The goal isn’t winning, or hurting the other person. And though it never occurred to me before, I realized my own pride was preventing me from being a polite arguer. This was a deflating feeling, and very humbling as well. It’s changed the way I interact with others, and I’ve tried to allow it to change the way I speak in general. It’s reminded me of the verse James wrote, 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I always try to remind myself to listen first. I also attempt to think carefully before speaking, and if I know I’m angry or even a little testy, to be extra slow to speak, because it’s then that the hurtful words come out. I’m so glad I learned this about myself, even though it stung to admit it at first, as it’s allowed me to change and to grow.
There’s one more thing I learned about life and myself this year and it didn’t come full circle until I got home. The opportunity has arisen for me to go back to Chile for one more year. It’s a unique assignment; different from the one I took last year. I’ll be able to teach English and some elementary subjects at schoolhouses out in the Chilean farmland. On top of that, it’s a Christian organization. The pay is not great, but I’m not in it for the money. I’d love the opportunity to continue learning and strengthening my Spanish. It’s a great tool that would help me when I come back. I’d also like to do some more travelling and visit new places. In addition, I’m still young and I still have the freedom to make a choice like this. I’ve always been a thinker. My brain is always ticking, observing, analyzing, processing. Type A, I know. But I’m also a dreamer. Dreaming is fun as it allows us to imagine things that we might not normally do. But here’s the thing. Dreaming for the purpose of dreaming isn’t what I’m about. That’s like setting goals and not going after them. So here’s what I learned: I don’t want to be just a dreamer; I want to live my dreams. I don’t want to one day realize that I’m old and I never did what I wanted to do. I never want to ask myself the question, “What if I had done that?” That’s a preventable type of regret. Although these thoughts were floating in my head, some of them admittedly formed into words after going to see Ben Stiller’s movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (highly recommend it, by the way). So let me say this: don’t be just a dreamer. Go for it.
All in all, I’ve learned a great deal this year. My 2013 journey has better prepared me for the 2014 one. I’ve learned to be content and joyful wherever I’m at in life. Why? Because I’ve got the Lord on my side. As long as I press into Him, and yield to Him those dreams that I dream, He’ll guide and protect me. I’m now reminding myself to be slower to speak and slower to anger, and ever quick to listen. There’s no need getting riled over trivial things. There’s no use blurting out hurtful words just so I’m not the only one who feels bad. Take a breath, keep your head up, and be humble. God first, others second, myself third. And lastly, don’t dream and die. Dream and do. The expression “dare to dream” exists for a reason. Don’t just dream the dreams; live them. These are some of the things I’ve learned this year. Maybe you learned something similar or maybe some completely different stuff. We can always learn from each other, so hopefully my words and lessons reached or helped you in some way. Feel free to share what you’ve learned below, and whatever you do, make 2014 even better than 2013. Happy New Year, and God Bless!!!