1. Silence is a way of life.
Daily we make noise choices. We decide how much clutter we allow into the beautiful space we call life. If silence can be defined as restraint, the things we don’t do, or say, the place we don’t go, the items we don’t purchase, then how loud have we let our lives become?
This year was the year my family chose stillness rather than the go-go-go. We chose to walk rather than drive. We chose to limit. My family is flourishing like never before. In an age of distraction and noise, it feels good to chose the quiet, focus, and restraint.
2. Be a friend who has energy for others.
One of my close friends and mentors told me he always knows real friends to be the ones who have energy for him. But he turned the observation around on himself. He said, “I want to be a man who has energy for people.” Wow; that hit me hard. Am I a friend who has energy for people or am I just a collector of acquaintances? What’s more, am I using people for selfish purposes? This year was the year of being a friend who has energy for others.
3. You are never beyond learning.
As someone who writes for a living, who researches for a living, and occasionally speaks, it’s easy to become critical of others. It’s easy to allow pride to whisper lies about your own learning and knowledge. One of my wife’s professors in graduate school would always take a notepad and pen and take copious notes during church. He was a theologian. What could he learn that he didn’t already know?
But that’s not the point. Learning, I’ve found, comes largely from the experiences and stories of others; what they’ve learned along their journey, the reflections that have enhanced their lives.
As I've pursued the PhD I’ve found the most unassuming scholars; scholars humble and helpful. One professor said the more he learns the more he discovers the sands of knowledge extend far beyond his sight. The point? He’s always learning, and will always learn. I want to be a learner. The PhD has simply provided me tools to be a better learner.
4. Be you.
5. Take “Oxford Walks.”
My wife, Chris, and I try to keep regular date nights. It’s can be difficult to maintain a consistent night out. But we’ve found that if we keep it as sacred time, and make it a priority, then they magically happen on a regular basis.
But our date nights are a bit irregular. We’ve decided to try and hit all the good Oxford pubs, get the real English experience and then go for a long walk around town. The walks have actually become our saving grace. As we stroll around town, down new streets and alleyways, our conversations explore as well. They open up. Hand-in-hand we talk with kindness and verve, and discuss the things that matter most to us. It’s an ideal time to be frank, honest, encouraging and dreamy.
The heart of our marriage beats with the pulse of constant conversation. Without it, we’d be adrift.
6. Take a risk.
In order to live in England for this PhD program we decided as a family that we’d sell our cars, and our house and even quit my job. What? The call was so clear we had no choice but to follow, to risk it all. It was scary. There were tears and “disagreements” and more tears. But we’ve never been closer as a family. We’ve never been so excited about our faith.
7. Keep a personal board of directors.
I have many friends who run organizations. They have board meetings and general meetings; meetings, meetings, meetings. I hate meetings. But secretly I loved that they have boards—men and women they bounce ideas off of, those who provide steady friendship and advice.
So, I developed my own personal Tim Willard board. Not really, but you get the point. This thing of living in England demanded that I remain accountable to mentors—friends I really trusted and I felt comfortable enough with to hear their hard advice.
It’s my inner ring and what a blessing it is. I meet with them regularly on Skype and update them on my progress and ask them about ideas and future plans. It’s been life giving and sustaining.
8. Go to Iceland.
Okay, I know not everyone can just up and go to Iceland. It’s only a 2 hour flight for me. But it’s the “thing” of Iceland. It’s a new place for me; it’s rugged; it’s beautiful; it’s challenging. Me and a dear friend (personal board member!) planned a hike in the central highlands of Iceland. It was a tough hike, but needed.
I think each year it’d be wise to plan some kind of retreat or “challenge weekend” as a way to get us out of our comfort zones, see new places and people and gain new perspective. And that is the prize: a new perspective.
9. Stop pursuing the “in crowd.”
Earlier this year I wrote a short piece on the imaginative leadership of C.S. Lewis. In that piece I referenced Lewis’s essay titled “The Inner Ring.” Lewis was adamantly against pursuing the inner ring; the in crowd. His advice? Put your head down and get busy with your own thing, with your own craft. If you do this, and surround yourself with likeminded folks, folks who challenge and inspire you (like Lewis’s “The Inklings”), then you’ll find that you will have created your own inner circle.
I love that advice. In the very small “Christian media world” of books, organizations, conferences, and so on, it’s easy to see the folks who seem to be the most successful and culturally relevant and mimic them. But this is not wise, nor is it fulfilling. Lewis’s advice is similar to #4 (see above). Don’t pattern yourself after what the popular folks are doing. Just do what you do. If it’s writing, then write. If it’s gardening, then get your spade and wheelbarrow ready for the season. If it’s baking, then crack some eggs. Pursue your giftedness, not the success of others.
10. Here are the essentials for having a supreme 2015. Special thanks to 2014:
- Fresh baked bread
- Earl Grey
- Frosty walks when you don’t feel like walking
- A challenge: a trip, a hike, a ride, a race, whatever.
- Reformed theology (just kidding)
- Weekly pub time with a friend
- Weekly pub time with your children
- A reading list double the size of your DVR list
- Read at least two C.S. Lewis books
- The Holy Spirit
- A break from coffee or coffee break; whichever is most needed
- A good pipe
- Regular bonfires with friends
- Regular bonfires with your family
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.