A Warning About Summer

Summer! A time of watermelons on a hot day, waterslides, camping, hot dogs by the fire, music festivals, beers on patios, bbq with friends! What a season! It’s a time of year that many of us perceive as special, a time when many of us feel as though we have TIME. Schools close, extracurricular activities slow or stop, workplaces tend to slow and holidays are taken. So why the warning? What could go wrong?

You can be among those who waste the summer, that’s what.

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So many people I talk with feel busy, frustrated, anxious and generally unsure about their summer plans this year. Maybe it is because after two summers of covid we forget how to do it, or maybe we just have so many pent up desires it is hard to choose. It feels a bit like the malaise that sometimes strikes before Christmas as people frantically try to re-create their most precious youthful memories (a failing, of course.) We need to get summer right, it matter for our relationships, our spiritual, mental and emotional health. 

The issue, as I see it, is that much of the year we are asked to give, to pour out, so to speak, and as we all know we need a full cup to pour from. The challenge, and it seems to be growing, is identifying what fills the cup. Many of us seem to be planning for things that are like water flowing through a sieve, there is water but it falls out as fast as it comes in. Maybe the advertisers are winning their battle for us and more and more of us are literally buying into their false promises, like if we had the right camper van or tent, the right beach (with the perfect sunglasses, bikinis, etc) then we would be well. Another option, and one that I think is more likely, is that we see what fills other people up and we copy them in the hope that it will fill us. This is the camper who doesn’t actually like camping but joins their friends outside, or the concert-goer who doesn’t like crowds or the music but likes their friends, the beach sitter who would rather be hiking and hiker who would rather be at a fancy restaurant. All of these can be good and soul-satisfying because they can bring us closer to God, and yet they do not all work for everyone. There is no universal cup, no IKEA plastic that fills the same way for everyone. Our cups are (to change metaphors mid-stream) bespoke. They are individual, they can only be filled by recognizing and accepting our particulars.

I have the impression, and I may be wrong, that many of the people I speak with no longer know what fills their cup. Maybe they need to embrace their inner child and ride a train, maybe they need to build a sandcastle, or read a book. For some of us gardening is great, for those like me it is not so great, for some it is cooking a meal for others. Maybe they need to pray, fast, meditate, sing holy hymns. 

This isn’t a call to holiness. It is a call to intentionality. God has numbered our days, we get to choose hoo we spend them. Copying others won’t do. Listening to advertisers won’t do. Of course, as a Christian I believe that to really feel full we must be filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit and I pray that you are. 

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If I can suggest anything I would love to invite you to sit down with a pad of paper (actual paper and pen) and write down all the things you are invited to do this summer, all the things you want to do, and where you think that desire comes from and how doing it will fill you. This should help clarify what you are going to do, why you are going to do it, and help you to have the sorts of experiences and fun you need to fill your particular cup. 

Cheers!

The lion in the road is probably not a lion

The book of Proverbs is pretty much always good for advice regardless of the mood you are in or the situations going on in your life, so I always like it when my reading plan has me rummaging around in them. 

The lazy man says, “There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion is in the streets!” (prov.26:13).

Now, a person who sees an actual lion in the road does well to avoid the road, unless he is a lion trapper or something. Spotting the lion can save lives, avoiding the lion is wise and good. Metaphorically, some people do very well indeed spotting lions, they avoid lemon-cars, overpriced houses, unfaithful spouses and win the lottery. 

Many people (alright, to be frank in my experience more men than women do this) make up lions in the road. Sometimes we do this to seem smart, like we are sooo intelligent that we can avoid problems before they come. We are such good leaders others should follow us because we can always see three moves ahead, as if we are all chess masters or something. Or only we have the special insight to gauge the value of a proposition or path forward. 

If we are honest though, and the book of Proverbs is calling this out, sometimes we spot the lion because we are lazy. We don’t really want to do whatever it is and so we search high and low and find lions in the road that will give us an excuse for inaction. We are all capable of this and we all do it somewhere in life. In my life this often takes the form of my whining about potential traffic because I would rather stay home.

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Maybe it is diet “less meat???? Where will I get my protein???” (Answer: same place your meat based protein does). 

Maybe it is fitness “running!?>$% I can’t run I have bad knees” (Answer: try swimming, cycling, or any of the hundreds of non-running methods to get your heart and lungs going). 

Maybe it is finance “pay down my debt!!! Save!!! Give money away!@#$@ Are you kidding me??? (No, I am not and it is important, find a way). 

Maybe it is relational “Say I am sorry!!! I ain’t weak they were wrong!” (Be sorry, it builds trust and has a way of helping relationships). 

But in my little world I encounter this most often when it comes to spiritual practices. We humans have all sorts of struggles, health-fitness-relational-emotional-spiritual-cant-get-to-sleep-at-night…We want healing and improvement, but we see lions in the road. People definitively say ahead of time that something won’t work (they put a lion in the road) even if they have never really tried it or haven’t in a long time. 

5 minute bible readings are too long, a day off is impossible, prayer doesn’t work/is boring/takes time…This never really comes across as wisdom and understanding, spotting the lion in this case really just seems lazy (or at best afraid to encounter the living God).   

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The history of the church includes any number of practices that have worked for any number of people in any number of circumstances, wisdom would suggest that they will work for us too, if we give them a try.

My challenge to you, if you are still reading, is to reflect on what lions you see in the road that are really just lies or laziness and what are you going to do about them?

Am I on a road to nowhere?

Proverbs 16:25 offers a warning to folks like me who tend to move too fast, it says, There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Maybe you let Zdeno Chara walk and kept Wade Redden. We have all fallen prey to this. Maybe we bought a house too high or sold shares too low. Maybe we embarked on a career for the wrong reasons or worse yet married for the wrong reasons. Our ability to stand at a fork in the path and go the wrong way truly staggering, we might as well admit it. 

The challenge, as the writer of Proverbs helpfully points out, is that the path appears to be right, it looks good. Partly how this works is we talk ourselves into things. As we age me mostly know when we are doing this. We create an elaborate argument for why we want do something/buy something/take a certain path and we know we are really just trying to justify the decision we have already made. You know what I mean, the sort of arguments that when others say them you think, “who are you trying to convince?”

One other way we choose paths poorly, or I sometimes do at least is negative self-talk that often stops me from getting going on something that could be life-giving. Maybe you want to draw or paint or play an instrument, if you are like many people you give up before you start. Some might “start” if by that we mean make a purchase or two and then spend an hour or two learning “they suck” before they move on, personally I count those efforts as non-starters as well. I am too fat to run, too tone deaf to sing, too offbeat the drum, too unhandy to fix a bike…again what we might think looks like the “right” path in a moment is the path to death, to no paintings or music, to broken bikes, and defeat.

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I believe this is where prayer and spiritual friendships come in. They are not foolproof, they do not work every time, they are not a promise that if you follow them they will always lead you to the right path (clearly if you know anything of history you know that much). Still, generally speaking, prayer, quiet reflection and contemplation can help us get onto the right path, both because slowing down can help and because God Himself might guide us if we listen. Also generally speaking, if we have friends that are true and honest and know that we will remain friends even if we disagree with them, then we have friends we can run stuff by that will give us real feedback. Listening to them can be hard (especially if their feedback is critical or involves taking the less appealing road). Being such a friend is hard too, on multiple levels—including trying to speak truth in manner that is likely to help our friends make decisions. 

Is there a path you are on that appears right but is leading to death? Do you have a friend who might benefit from a bit of honest wisdom? Relationships die, artistic visions die, healthy bodies degrade, faith flounders on the rocks of life, and so it is clear we must at least try to get on the path that leads to life. 

I’ve told you prayer and friendships help me, what helps you?

Changing our minds isn’t always bad

The Globe and Mail had a little historical tidbit that caught my eye this week. The title boomed “GALILEO SENTENCED FOR HELIOCENTRIC VIEWS.” I guess it is the anniversary of that bleak moment in time. The article explained the well-known history of his arrest etc. and also the less well-known fact that in 1992 (350 years later!!!) Pope John Paul II officially declared that Galileo had been correct. 

Now, 350 years is a long time, especially to recognize something so well-accepted for so long. I bet many of us want to judge those involved, like we have never gotten anything wrong, nor stuck to a bad answer longer than we should have.

What it reminded me of was not just the ways The Church has been wrong in the past, but more the utterly human element of faithful communities that leads them to stick their heels in and refuse to change or admit they were wrong, long after even they know themselves to be in the wrong. Churches that proclaim the Risen Christ ought to be able to say we are sorry, admit when we are wrong, and ask for forgiveness. 

I suspect I recognize this because I know it can be true of me. It isn’t something I am proud of, it is something I need to work on, but I can admit that there have been times I realize I am wrong but dig in for no good reason. 

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Is there some conclusion in your life you know is wrong, maybe you knew it was wrong when you made it, or maybe you have figured it out over time, that you need to address? 

This seems to me like a question worth reflecting on and asking God to enlighten us: what did I once believe, that I no longer believe, that nevertheless influences the way I live?

It’s ok to admit we have been wrong, better that we do it really since it is highly unlikely any of us will have someone step in for us 350 years from now:) 

Who are you harming?

In his letter to the Romans Paul writes a brief recap of the law. Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery etc. and tells the reader what Jesus told his students, the laws may be summed up by a principle that underlies them, Love you neighbour as yourself. This is well known and it is really a lot harder than most people seem to think it is. Maybe that is why Paul seeks to offer a bit of clarification, or perhaps a form of nuance, to help people actually live up to this standard. 

We never truly love our neighbours as ourselves, we don’t pay for their kids to go to university and we don’t tend to nurse them back to health when they are sick, or perform other deeply service/action-oriented forms of love. Few of us would even take care of our neighbours lawns or clear off their cars for them, to say nothing of loving them. Still, we are called to love them. 

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Paul says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). This is very helpful if we want to seriously commit ourselves to following Jesus by loving our neighbour. This may be especially true if you are among the broad-minded who see the entire planet as a community and people everywhere as your neighbour (to use religious-speak, we might say such people recognize that all people everywhere are made in the image of God and thus worthy of dignity and respect). Of course there are smaller version of who the neighbour is, I would suggest Jesus had a pretty broad view on this question, but even if you make a smaller circle this command is still tough. 

Paul makes it a bit simpler by focusing on non-harm. Much of the way I tend to think of love as a verb is pro-active, coaching the soccer team, fixing the bike, helping out in the house. Paul is talking about not harming others. For instance, if like me you drink coffee everyday do you think of who grows the coffee and tends the coffee and harvest, roasts, transports, and serves the coffee? If you, like me, wear clothes do you consider what materials they are made from, what dyeing processes they go through, who designed the clothes, are they made to last, who made them and where? If you, unlike me, eat eggs regularly, do you consider the life of the laying hen? The worker in the CAFO, the transportation, the environmental implications of refrigeration…

My purpose is less to induce guilt and more to remind us that we face countless ethical decisions daily. The fact that we ignore them and refuse to see them as ethical doesn’t make the ethics disappear, just ask the child factory worker making clothes. 

So today I encourage you to consider who you might be harming and one way to reduce the harm you cause. Doing so is an act of love. 

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$$$ When Value Disappears 

As interests rates rise and investments decline and seemingly gazillions of dollars disappear in the thin air of the internet, there is, of course, much hand ringing. Some of this is serious; there are those who cannot or soon will not be able to afford the necessities for healthy living. I do not mean to be dismissive of the very real trouble this might all mean for some people, especially those leading overly leveraged lives. 

I read a worried-sounding article trying to explain how value is understood and how money vanishes like smoke. Sure, it will probably come back to those who are patient, but the point of the article, and I take it to be somewhat accurate regarding economics, is that sometimes, in certain conditions, when it comes to stocks, houses, and money itself “the value just kind of disappears.” 

Of course there is a sense of panic in the air when this happens. 

At the same time, if I can say it without sounding like an annoying uncle saying “I told you so!” There are two ways the bible helps us in such moments and so we Christians ought to be ok despite the bit of chaos. Biblical principles are not just about us living better lives (though they may help us do that) but our ability to handle the principles well and live them out is an important element in our ability to demonstrate ways in which our faith impacts our lives in meaningful ways. As one freaks out about money another is calm, calmness in certain moments speaks louder than words. 

So how does the bible help us?

Firstly, the bible contains tons of good financial advice everything from lending to family and friends, and being charitable, to putting aside a bit for a rainy day. So at the most basic level the bible could have helped us prepare for these days and it can help us avoid precarious positions as we move forward. Seriously, look into biblical principals of money and you just might find yourself finally getting ahead. I want to leave you to do this yourselves because the work itself will reinforce the will to put teachings into practice (I hope). 

Secondly, we know that there are things more precious than gold and we are empowered to live ours lives as though that is true. Scripture tells us that having a good partner in life is better than having rubies, it tells us the word of God itself is more valuable than gold, it tells us that the kingdom of God is so valuable one might sell one’s land to get a taste of it. In other words, regardless of how well (or not well) we have followed those biblical money-management tips, we have plenty to be grateful for and to enjoy. 

By way of example a personal aside: I have often marvelled at how much I enjoy sitting still in silence, it is free, easy etc. and so counter-consumerist, and yet deeply satisfying and I sometimes think why do I ever do anything else? Just a personal example of the joys of faith outside of finances.

Christians have been rich (too rich) many of us still are. Christians have been poor (too poor) many of us still are. The Holy Spirit has long helped us to be content either way. 

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Christian, how we respond to economic news is part of how we represent the King to the world. When we get greedy and overly excited about money (or crypto:) that says something serious about our souls and what we really believe and value. When we get despairing as money evaporates that also says something about our spiritual wellbeing. 

Money comes and goes (that is pretty much its purpose) but the word of God, the love of God, the forgiveness-mercy-and-compassion of God, they remain.   

Wherever you find yourself on the financial spectrum be assured that I am praying for you and you aren’t alone. 

All that being said, if you need a bit of help in the coming weeks, please be sure to ask, the benevolent fund is ready:) 

Showing up for others

There is a little girl on the soccer team I coach, let’s call her Christine. Christine is perhaps the smallest kid on the team, one of the smallest I have noticed in her league. She plays with a huge heart, she fights hard for space, gets into the correct position, puts her head down and runs when our team turns the ball over. She is small but she is mighty and reminds me of the character Rudy from that old football movie. Christine has multiple commitments and, to be honest, soccer is pretty low on her list. So, when she came down with a cough recently it was decided she would skip soccer and try to get healthy in time for another event she had coming up. 

I am writing about her because even though she wasn’t going to play she came to cheer her team on. There are any number of other things she could have spent her evening doing but she came to watch her team, cheer for them, and to take pleasure in the fun they were having, as she sat on the sidelines. What a team mate!

It made me think about how sometimes when it comes to Sunday worship services we might not want to attend, we might have other priorities, we might not be feeling like worshipping God or chatting with folks, we might not want to sing or have to smile at one more person. We may have other things we could be doing or getting ready for. If we are honest, for many of us it doesn’t take too  much to convince us to skip a Sunday.  

If everyone only attended when they really wanted to our churches would be even more empty than they are today. Discouragement would be higher, community would be weakened, our impact on the neighbourhoods we worship in would be reduced, our ability to find volunteers to greet, run the a/v, lead the Sunday school and on and on would be hurt. 

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Christine was happy to come encourage others, kids were so happy to see her, they were astounded that would come without planning to play, dare I say she inspired them. As it happened, the game turned lopsided enough that we put her in our net since that would mostly just involve standing there (she managed to be helpful even when she did not expect to be). 

You can guess where I am going…your presence at worship services is not just about you or your being “fed”. Sometimes your presence is a way to encourage staff and volunteers who are pouring their hearts and souls into worship services. Sometimes your presence is a gift to someone who really needed to see you because they know your story and relate to it and this particular day they just needed to know they aren’t alone, sometimes your presence in body transitions to a presence of soul and you find yourself deeply immersed in the presence of the Divine. 

God calls his people into community and into worshipping communities. Thanks be to God. 

Why I run in the ran and pray even when I don’t want to

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…I woke to rain, hard and cold rain. The sort of rain that makes lying in bed with my wife the most tempting decision. My friend was waiting, or would soon be. We are to run at 6am. He waits twice a week, every week. To be clear we happily run in negative 38 celsius, we sweatily and cheerily run in plus 38 celsius, our Everest is rain. Rain saps the soul, it flattens the landscape, it leads to chaffing. On mornings when it rains, it can take a lot to get out of bed and put the shoes on. 

Having a friend waiting is helpful, it creates a demand on me, not only will I be letting them down and not only do I know if I did that too much they would stop waiting for me (as I would stop waiting for them), but I know that even the rain isn’t so bad when pierced alongside a friend. Sure enough, our run was just fine (imagine that, we aren’t made of sugar after all). It was more than fine. I am happy I did it, pleased with the self-discipline that I understand is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). I am happy because it is a good way to start the day even on a bad day. 

The preceding two paragraphs can be re-written and all you need to do is change “run” with whatever spiritual discipline you find most life-giving. The friend can be a person you know, a spouse, a spiritual brother or sister, or it may even be Jesus Himself based on your temperament and spirituality. 

Watch how easily this is about bible reading:

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…I woke feeling tired, like a cold hard rain was on my soul. The sort of rain that makes lying in bed with my wife the most tempting decision. My friend was waiting, or would soon be. We are to read our bibles at 6am. He waits twice a week, every week. To be clear we happily read together in negative 38 celsius, we sweatily and cheerily read in plus 38 celsius, our Everest is feeling tired and busy. Business saps the soul, it flattens the landscape. On mornings when fatigue is winning, it can take a lot to get out of bed and grab my bible. 

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Having a friend waiting is helpful, it creates a demand on me, not only will I be letting them down and not only do I know if I did that too much they would stop waiting for me (as I would stop waiting for them), but I know that even the tiredness isn’t so bad when pierced alongside a friend. Sure enough, our reading was just fine (a little coffee may have helped:). It was more than fine. I am happy I did it, pleased with the self-discipline that I understand is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). I am happy because it is a good way to start the day even on a bad day. 

Or Prayer (this time we retain more raining imagery as a metaphor:

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…I woke to rain, hard and cold rain. The sort of rain that makes lying in bed with my wife the most tempting decision. My friend was waiting, or would soon be. We are to pray together at 6am. He waits twice a week, every week. To be clear we happily pray in negative 38 celsius, we sweatily and cheerily pray in plus 38 celsius, our Everest is rain. Rain saps the soul, it flattens the landscape, it leads to chaffing. On mornings when it rains, it can take a lot to get out of bed and put the shoes on. 

Having a friend waiting is helpful, it creates a demand on me, not only will I be letting them down and not only do I know if I did that too much they would stop waiting for me (as I would stop waiting for them), but I know that even the rain isn’t so bad when pierced alongside a friend. Sure enough, our prayer time was just fine (imagine that, we aren’t made of sugar after all). It was more than fine. I am happy I did it, pleased with the self-discipline that I understand is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5). I am happy because it is a good way to start the day even on a bad day. 

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Go ahead, stop making excuses, embrace the fruit of the spirit called self-control. If you are already there, then try to be a friend to someone who needs a little encouragement. Either way, a bad day can be turned good as we lean into the promises of faith and are formed by Christ.  

How will you know?

Recently the family and I went on a long bike ride, long for us anyways. As a ride it was not that tiring nor difficult. Still, it required some coaching by the parents and patience on the part of Pop. Not that the kids were giving us a hard time, far from it, but the pace we could maintain was predictably slow and I had to keep a focus on the purpose on the day. It didn’t matter when we arrived at our destination, there was nothing there but some French fries (seriously Maniwaki had little to offer, nice as it was). The journey itself was the purpose. 

Sometimes I can catch myself thinking about destinations and missing the moment. I can focus too much on retirement and miss the fun today, I can focus too much on where I want our family or church to be and miss the special moment we are in, I certainly do at times focus on where I would like to be spiritually, emotionally, and creatively, and—you guessed it—miss the moment I am in. 

The life of faith takes time, today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. It is a strange element of the life of faith that it never really ends (even in death we believe it keeps going:). Still, when we read our bibles, pray, journal, fast or feast we are in process but without much intention about arriving. 

Cycling in the countryside with kids (on a well chosen route that doesn’t involve cars) is pure joy—especially the downhills—I long for the day when my prayer life feels like that. Maybe you do too.

I have often thought that you are a “real” runner or cyclist or musician or whatever when you learn to enjoy the process itself. The personal bests and excellent performances are great—they are the cherry on top—but when you are just happy to be doing hill repeats or scales you know you have arrived at something—though, of course, you are still moving and getting to the top of the hill just means heading back down and doing it all over again. Maybe we are like trains making progress with many stops along the way. 

Maybe a real spiritual life is one like that, one without as much concern for where we are going, or results (though we we have hope) and more about enjoying the process. I can say that I look forward to bible reading and to meditation times, I am learning about prayer but I wouldn’t say I look as forward to it. I guess that is a growing edge for me. 

What’s a growing edge for you in the life faith? What is something you wish you could enjoy doing? 

My advice: start doing it today, do it repeatedly in small chunks and one day you will find yourself enjoying the moment and seeing personal bests with little effort. If you are really lucky you might find yourself eating freezies outside a depaneur on a hot day with some tired but happy children. 

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Who you calling a sluggard??

What’s a sluggard? It’s defined as someone who is habitually inactive or lazy. I know few people identify as sluggards. No, we are “busy.” We wear “busy” like a badge and whether what we are doing is really productive or leading us to where we want to go or not is secondary, busy-ness is valuable in and of itself, or so it often seems.

I  try to stay on top of this and intentional as I can be I often get to the end of a day or even a week and wonder what have I really accomplished? Sometimes time seems to float away on a gentle breeze. When I do something of substance, like preach a sermon, visit a sick person, or coach a soccer team, I tend to end my day feeling good, like I accomplished something tangible. Like if I could stack a bunch of those days together and look back on them I would like what I saw. 

Proverbs says, Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing. What a shame because I bet the sluggard didn’t even know they were a sluggard, I bet they thought they were working hard, I bet they were “busy,” they just didn’t really get anywhere, like a car stuck in traffic burning gas and creating pollution and taking time, but not accomplishing much. 

In my life one of the great signs sloth is embedding itself in my life is my ability to “finish” a Netflix series. When did it become an “accomplishment” to “finish” Brooklyn 99?

I heard someone say recently that we can all state our priorities: family, health, friendship, maybe we throw in faith, the environment, finances, whatever. But saying these things matter and acting on them are different and so the sluggard “tries hard” and “looks back to find nothing.” It is a warning. The person said what we need to do is watch and identify our “functional priorities.” A functional priority is what we do when we know we are short on time. 

When we do not have enough time do we ignore our spouse or kids or friends?

When we do not have enough time do we skip the workout or walk?

When we do not have enough time do we grab a bag of chips rather than make a meal?

When we do not have enough time do we read the newspaper instead of the bible?

When we do not have enough time do we check Facebook instead of pray?

When we are feeling rushed we often seek comfort, which makes sense but sadly we are all broken and fallible and so the comforts we seek in the moment almost always cost us something dear. We undermine our very values and priorities, and we do it instinctually. We are the sluggards. 

As covid (hopefully) winds down, are there habits you have comforted yourself with that you need to give up now?

Is there a habit you have had on hold lately? 

Maybe something you enjoyed before the pandemic that you could pick up again? 

Or perhaps something from even earlier? 

Is there a meal you used to cook that you might enjoy cracking open the old cookbook for now? 

Is there a habit that used to help you feel connected to Jesus that somehow you have drifted away from?

What we look back on will be the decisions we make today, the question is will we appreciate the harvest of what we have reaped. 

We are all busy, but we don’t all have to be sluggards.