From Surviving to Thriving in the New Year

Cradling my newborn as I rocked her to sleep, my mind battled with the doctor’s words spoken the week before, “I’m sorry, but the tests indicate Hodgkin’s Disease. We’ll repeat the test to verify the diagnosis.”

“Lord,” I silently cried, “Why? Will I never see my newborn grow up or my two toddlers become adults? How could this happen?”  For a week I pleaded, cried, shouted, and begged the Lord God of Heaven and earth to spare my life. Now, finally as my daughter’s infant eyes closed in sleep, I gave up.

“Lord, “I whispered.” I accept whatever this means. I don’t understand it and I don’t want it, but for whatever days, weeks, or months remain to me, I want to fulfill Your purpose for each day. You gave me life. It belongs to You. Now more than anything else, I want to make my life count. I want to do exactly what You have planned for each day you’ve given me.”

My life changed that day. A new process began–the process of discovering God’s plan for each day He granted.  Previously an overextended, overcommitted overachiever, I resigned from the positions I held as the pastor’s wife. I explained that I was staying home to care for my newborn and find out exactly what God wanted me to do with each day.

God used the next year of my life to take me from surviving to thriving. He taught me seven principles through His Word and His orchestration of circumstances that I offer to you as encouragement in the New Year.

1) Spend time with God first

I know you’ve heard it before but it can be done. When it seems impossible to find time, I try to remember I can’t possibly know what He plans for my day if I don’t meet and discuss it with Him first. After all, He says that He knows the good plans He has for me (Jeremiah 29:11). He wrote all the days ordained for me in a book before one of them came to be (Psalms 139:16) and He knows how He wants me to use them (Ephesians 2:10).

When my young baby and two toddlers demanded constant attention, I followed the advice of Ruth Bell Graham. Billy’s wife was often responsible for all the children while her husband traveled to speak throughout the United States. She developed the habit of leaving an open Bible on the kitchen counter. Each time she passed by she read one verse. These “conversation starters” with God enabled her to tap into His thoughts and desires for her day.

Emilie Barnes, author and time management expert, described how she organized time with God during the early years of motherhood.  She placed a basket in a very visible area of her house. It contained her Bible, prayer notebook, a few postcards for encouragement notes to friends, a box of Kleenex for difficult prayers, and a small bunch of silk flowers. She scheduled time each day to grab her prayer basket and spend quality time with Jesus.

2) Search for God’s will for your time

For years, I assumed that if I saw any need, whether planning a program or accomplishing a task, it was my responsibility. As a result, I seemed to say “Yes” to everything. I was so busy doing all these supposedly great things for God that I was clueless as to His actual desire for my time and activity. After the Hodgkin’s diagnosis, I decided to resign all church work until God showed me what He wanted me to do. I wanted His instruction for guidance to know His will. He used interesting ways to show me His plan.

First, one pastor’s sermon on the will of God offered direction. “You must seek and find the will of God for you alone because if you are doing the will of God, there is no greater joy. At the same time, if you are not in God’s will for your life, you are robbing someone else of being in God’s will for them,” the pastor said. I was deeply convicted. It seemed that in our church, I was the Body of Christ; other qualified people were denied a chance to use the gifts and skills God gave them because I was busy doing it all.

At the time I read an article quoting Jesus, “Father, I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do (John 17:4).” The article explained that no one knows how many people Jesus left untaught and untouched while He walked the earth. And yet at the end of His life He was able to say to the Father that He had completed the work He was sent to earth to fulfill. I knew I wanted to be able to speak those same words at the end of my life.

Finally, God began to show me four ways to evaluate the tasks and activities in my life to help me decide how I was supposed to spend my time.

a. First, I learned to pray about each opportunity by considering if the task, activity, or ministry was consistent with God’s desires as He revealed His will through prayerful reading of His Word.

b. Secondly, I asked myself if the circumstances seemed supernaturally arranged to enable me to fulfill the task.

c. Thirdly, when confiding in trusted Christian friends, did their advice or counsel seem to encourage me to pursue this path?

d. And finally if still unsure, I would ask myself if this was something someone else could do as well or better than I could. Were the unique gifts, skills, and abilities God had given me necessary, or had He designed someone else for this special task?

These four steps for evaluating God’s will proved indispensable for the rest of my life.

3) Pray about everything

How, you may wonder? For years, I never understood how God expected us to “Pray continually (I Thessalonians 5:17)” or follow His direction to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert, and always keep on praying for the saints (Ephesians 6:18).” I decided that to do this, you had to wait until you were old.  Then you would have time to follow these instructions.

But soon God showed me that prayer was simply conversation with Him–all day long about everything. He created us and wants to discuss every aspect of our life with us. How?

Let me ask you a personal question. Do you talk to yourself? Of course you do. You are mentally discussing this article right now as you read it. You’re asking yourself if you agree or disagree and whether or not you’ll give it a try?

All day long, a running conversation is going on in our minds as we consider the events of each day: the people we meet, the demands we face, the challenges we tackle. What is prayer? Inviting God into that conversation. Instead of discussing all these things with ourselves, why not begin to discuss them with God? He is the only one who understands our situation, knows how to handle it and has the power to do something about it.

4) Learn to say “No” so you can say “Yes” to God. 

When offered an opportunity that may be God’s will for you, explain that you will pray about it for at least one week before giving an answer. Then pray.

After thorough evaluation and prayer, if you then believe God wants you to say, “Yes,” do so with joy and know God has called you to this task. This changes the way you serve God. Ministry becomes a privilege done out of a sense of joy, rather than begrudged duty, guilt or condemnation. You know He has called you and will equip you to fulfill His purpose for your life.

If God does not show you through His word and you feel His inner peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), say “No.”  Yes, I mean it. Say, “No.” “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying ‘This is the way; walk in it (Isaiah 30:21)” enabling you to truly fulfill His purposes in your life. Then you will be ready and waiting to hear His voice when it is time to say, “Yes” to His opportunity for you.

5) Nurture relationships because they matter. 

Time proves that good relationships are essential in life. All of our accomplishments and accumulated successes will pale in light of the successful relationships we develop and nurture.  God cares about relationships. The entire Bible echoes God’s desire for relationship with His people and describes the great costs He endured to secure that relationship. It’s said, “You can’t take it with you” at death. But the truth is, you can.

There are two things that are eternal–God’s Word hidden in your heart as you build a relationship with Him and your relationship with those who will share His Heaven with you.  As you face the New Year, cherish and nurture your relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. With God’s power, you can let go of grudges and be quick to forgive.

In an address to the women of Wellesley College several years ago, Barbara Bush spoke these words, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” No one knows the future. Spend time with those you love today.

6) Identify your God-given gifts, skills, and abilities and use them. 

As God continued to teach me the principles I am sharing with you, I began to realize the potential He gives each of us to make a difference in our world. As I spent more time at home caring for my children, the hunger to reach out to the world persisted.

I began to realize that when we identify our God-given gifts, skills, and abilities, the possibilities to reach our world are endless, regardless of our boundaries. Are you bed-ridden? Pray and write a note of encouragement to a relative. Are you changing diapers and picking up toys? Invite a friend to chat with you while you work. Are the children napping? Put ingredients in the bread machine so you can run a fresh loaf to a new neighbor.

During this time in my life while I sought to know God’s will for each day that remained, I began to feel God wanted me to write. 

Once a week during Mother’s Morning Out, when all the other moms went shopping, I chose a secluded classroom in the church to begin my vigil with God. It was there I learned to write, something I had never considered before. Out of this time came the book, Resource Guide for Women’s Ministry, a personal handbook filled with interesting ideas for discovering your God-given gifts, skills, and abilities and using them in simple ways each day to fulfill His plan for your life (Romans 11:29).

7. Enjoy the life God has given you

For a long time, I thought it was somehow unspiritual to enjoy life. After all, Jesus had suffered. Then I realized Jesus had something to say about that Himself. In his final prayer for us before returning to His Father and ours, He said, “I am coming to you now (Father), but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them (John 17:13).”

Jesus was joyful. He also tells us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). We live in a fallen, broken world. That will not change. Jesus didn’t promise life would be easy. He did promise He would be there.  And in the midst of it all, He offers joy.  Seize life and joy with gratitude.  The Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis that changed my life and offered the principles I share with you now in this New Year took place twenty years ago. I was told later my problem was misdiagnosed.  I did not have Hodgkin’s Disease. But God did not allow that truth to be revealed until He had answered my prayers and taught me what I needed to know about living each day for Him.  Have I lived life perfectly? No. Have I lived it purposefully?

Yes. The satisfaction and fulfillment of a life well-spent is immeasurable. As you seek to thrive rather than survive in the New Year, I pray that you discover God’s purpose for each day you are granted and live your life to the fullest.

Linda McGinn Waterman, Author Resource Guide for Women’s Ministries

THRIVE! Think About It:

“First I was dying to finish high school and start college,

And then I was dying to finish college and start working,

And then I was dying to marry and have children,

And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.

And then I was dying to retire,

And now, I am dying…and suddenly I realize I forgot to live.”