Napkin Resolutions

While cleaning out my home office a few weeks ago, I found a memento from one of my last visits to my home state of Colorado.  It was a napkin from my airplane ride home. On one side was an advertisement for the airline I had flown. On the reverse side, which had been blank, I had made two lists. The left-hand column contained a happy list of the Colorado beers I’d tried on that trip. The right-hand column was more sobering: a list of resolutions I wanted to make about how to live my life after returning to Pittsburgh.

Sometimes vacation puts life in perspective, giving us a clearer sense of what our priorities in life should be. On that flight home two years ago, some of those priorities were simple choices I wanted to make in order to add more joy to my life: make time for music, move through life more slowly, read something other than theology textbooks. But the biggest and most important resolution of all that September was live with integrity. Not that there was a severe lack of integrity in my life, but there was enough to make me aware that something had to change. I said yes to things when I should have said no, lied about my feelings, and didn’t always live according to my convictions. So I made resolutions: live with integrity, stand for my convictions, be honest. All written in blue ink on that scratchy white napkin. And then never seen again until surfacing in my office earlier this month.  

Ironically, though the napkin could have easily been thrown away, I saved it. But saving it in a pile of other papers meant I might as well have thrown it away. Resolutions, commitments, and vows of any kind are meant to be revisited regularly. When we hastily make such commitments and then forget about them, we cheapen both ourselves and the language we use. Our yes becomes a no (cf. Matt. 5:37) and we become snared in our own words (Proverbs 6:2-5). No one else knew about those napkin resolutions two years ago, so the hypocrisy of my failure to reflect on them could have remained hidden forever. I made those resolutions to myself, but it turns out that I couldn’t even be trusted to remember them.

That was two years ago. Last night, as my plane descended into Pittsburgh, returning from this year’s vacation to Colorado, I looked at another airline napkin in my hand.  Blank.  Recalling the memento I’d found earlier this month, this seemed like an invitation and an opportunity. I jotted down some notes regarding new resolutions I want to make: Make time for family (especially with Baby Brown due in a few months). Pursue single-mindedness. Reduce multi-tasking. Focus attention on true priorities. Make time for writing; it’s a spiritual discipline.  And again: live with integrity. There’s been quite a bit of progress on that resolution in two years, enough that I’m writing a book about it. But this year I’m emphasizing what I forgot two years ago: remembering the commitments I’ve made. And that’s going to require intentional action. For example: What would it look like to reflect regularly on my ordination vows? I remember making them every time I come across a verse Psalms which refers to the vows we make to God (“From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him” [22:25 NASB] or “Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them” [76:11]). But can I really fulfill them if I forget their original meaning or intention? Probably not. Some sort of intentional reflection is needed. And the same is true of all the other commitments we make: marriage vows, commitments to friends or communities, even job descriptions. Wouldn’t we all benefit from reflecting on such commitments and asking whether we’re fulfilling them with integrity? If we don’t, they can become mere napkin resolutions, forgotten or thrown away.

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