Happy New Year! I hope this is happy start to the year for you. For my family and I, it has been a slow and peaceful start to the New Year. We spent New Year’s Eve at home watching fireworks on TV. Then on New Year’s Day we headed off to the beach where we had a picnic, and relaxed on the sand. The boys loved running around, building sandcastles and playing in the water. We finished off with ice cream and ice blocks for the kids, and coffee and iced chocolate for us parents. After enjoying a scenic drive home we decided to get KFC for dinner – something we rarely do – so the boys were thrilled with the extra surprise treat.
But for many in Australia where I live the New Year was not like that. There have been bushfires for many months in the second half of last year which have built up to horrific moments where people have been in terrifying situations when the bushfires reached their towns. There has been loss of human life and loss of animal life. Homes have been destroyed, farming property and businesses have been destroyed. And much of our beautiful bushland has now become a wasteland.
So it has also been a sombre start to the New Year. My heart goes out to all those affected and gratitude goes out to the firefighters and large teams of emergency workers who are working tirelessly to put out the fires and help those affected by the fires.
As this happens many look back to the experience of previous fires. One of those was the Black Saturday fires in 2009 – ten years ago. I still remember that time. For many it was also time of terror and devastation as many lost their lives and their homes.
But as some reflect on the fire 10 years ago as well as others in previous years – at what is the turn of the decade many people are reflecting on their own lives in the past 10 years. For a few days over the end of 2019 I have seen throwback posts on social media. Either photos of themselves then in 2009 and “now” in 2019 or little quizzes on Instagram comparing their lives then and now. What was their relationship status, where were they living, what were they doing with their life and then what was it like now on the last day of 2019. It’s a fun and insightful way to see how your life has gone.
But recently I read something in a devotional for Mum’s that kind of turned this around and really struck a chord in me. It asked me think about characteristics I’d like to see in my sons in ten years.Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think about the future, or think about my children. It’s not that I ever thought or dreamed about what they’d be like when they got older – my husband and I talk about this frequently. But to give a time frame of 10 years was something else. It was more specific, more pointed.
See at the moment my three boys are currently 7, 5 and 2 years. At the time of writing this I am toilet-training my youngest. In ten years’ time I will have a 17 year old, a 14 year old and a 12 year old. My eldest will be about to begin his last year in high school and my youngest will be starting high school. Thinking in that way puts a lot into perspective and as a mum it scares me.
Then it led me to think about myself (I’ll be 47), my husband, my parents, my extended family and friends, the young people in our youth ministry.
See many people set goals and plans for the year – that’s another thing I’ve seen a lot of on social media – and that’s great. It’s good to have plans and a direction for the year. But I rarely hear people publicly talk about their 10 year goals and plans.
And the truth is I don’t think many people know how to think or plan that far ahead. (I know I certainly don’t because the things I have planned in the past have always changed.) And if they did maybe they didn’t want to share them.
For a start I think of the picture comparisons of people ten years ago and now. Some people have changed for the good – maybe they lost weight, or taken more care of themselves. But for most of us we just get older. And we look older. And that’s not something a lot of people like to think about – we don’t want to think about getting older and going through the aging process. Even the 20 year olds that I talk to hate to talk about what they will be like when they’re 30 (even though I reassure then that I have loved my thirties). But I think the reality is getting older just points to something bigger, that there is an end coming. My grandmother is 96. If she is still alive in 10 years she’ll be 106. For other family members – my parents and aunts and uncles they’ll be in their seventies and eighties. It’s a sobering thought.
So we put aside our thoughts of what WE will be like in ten years.
As well as this, as much as we like to make plans and goals, there are many things that can happen to us that are beyond our control.
We can make plans to buy land and build a house – but we can’t control earthquakes, fires, floods or hurricanes or typhoons destroying them – all of which I’ve seen in the past decade.
We can say we want to be in a relationship and maybe get married, but the relationships we are in don’t last.
We can say we are planning to start a family – but we can’t control how easily it will be actually fall pregnant.
We can plan to start a business even perhaps with goals to be earning $1 million dollars in five years, or have shops or warehouses set up over the country, but we can’t control the financial markets and economic climate that may affect our business.
We can have plans to have a sporting career – but we can’t control being an accident (not necessarily caused by ourselves) – that can leave us severely injured and unable to move physically the way we used to.
These are only a few examples, but there are so many others I can think of and which you can probably imagine.
Then even if we have goals and plans, we have to remember that we are human. The things that we like, the things we dislike, the desires of heart and the things we want to do and achieve can often be so temporary. They can change so easily. I know this for myself. The things I loved and wanted to do in my twenties, as I looked forward in life have changed so much over the years. So we may decide to set plans for the next ten years only to decide in three years’ time “that’s not for me, that am not the direction I wish to go in.” And that’s fine too. It’s okay sometimes to change your mind.
But I think the question in looking forward to ten years is not necessarily what you will do with your life, your relationships, your family, your career, your ministry. It’s more to do on focussing on what kind of person do you want to become, what kind of person do you want your children to become? You see we have limited control over our circumstances. We can do things to stay healthy, but we can’t always stop the sicknesses and diseases from coming. We can set up safety nets in our houses and lives but accidents will still happen. We can purchase insurance to protect us from the potential loss of our homes, health and possessions but it doesn’t stop those bad things from happening (in fact those things are put in place in the knowledge they potentially will happen).
But what we can have control over is how we grow and develop. We have control over the type of person we become. We have control over our words and our actions. The circumstances can change, but the way we respond says a lot about who we are. It can make or break us. And those circumstances can shape us into the person we will become.
What person do you want to be like at the end of 2029?