I set one goal for 2021: to love Jenny accurately. It got me in a little bit of trouble. But that got all worked out. Let me explain.
Since 2003 when I first wrote out what I thought my identity and calling was, I have made a list of annual goals that cover every sphere of my life. They are always quite extensive. I set personal goals for my walk with God, physical, emotional and mental health. I set family goals, laying out what I hope to do in my relationships with my wife Jenny, my kids Jacob, Julian, Judah and Jackie, my siblings and their families, and my extended family. I set work goals under the “big rocks” of my pastoral ministry: prayer and preaching, leadership, making disciples, presbytery, and so on. Also under work I included goals that I felt God had called me to do but that I wasn’t paid for, my contribution to the common good. I set goals in community for my friendships, for the church community, and the many different communities that I was a part of. Finally, I set goals for place where God had planted me and other places I loved or had responsibility for: our home, neighborhood, city. Our dreamed of studio on Camano. My connection to Russia. I wrote out my goals by hand. They filled up about 5-7 pages which I kept with my calendar. At least quarterly, often monthly, I pulled them out to assess how I was doing. I hit many of the goals, many I did not. Those were carried onto the next year.
But when I made my goals for 2021, I felt I needed a change. My life for the last few years has been crowded. Overbusy. Stressed. I knew I needed to slow down. Breath. Enjoy. I also realized that by now my work in each of these spheres of responsibility was locked in. Things were clicking along. I was doing the work I needed to do. I really didn’t need to set more goals. Lastly, I realized that there was one place where I did need to focus, give attention, “plant a rally flag” or have a “rallying cry” as Patrick Lencioni puts it: my marriage.
Don’t get me wrong. Jenny wasn’t threatening to leave me. Our marriage wasn’t on the rocks. At the same time, the last few years of busy, stress, crowdedness had taken a toll on Jenny. She was weary, burned out, and missed being the apple of my eye. I was having fun with my multitude of projects, but she was sucking wind. And I knew that the problem was ME. I could choose to invest in Jenny and my marriage, or keep the status quo and let her slowly die inside. It was that serious!
As 2021 approached, I thought about making just one goal; one that focused on Jenny and our marriage. It made a lot of sense. After all, we are together almost 24/7. Not having an office, I do my pastoral work from home. And Jenny is my great ally and help in church ministry. Besides living together, we raise our kids together, run an art studio business together, and pretty much do everything together. By making Jenny my one goal, every area of my life would be impacted.
But what should that goal be? It should be to love her well, of course. But I wanted a better descriptor. I landed on the word “accurately.” For me to love Jenny accurately really gets to where I have been lacking. I have not listened to her needs, her burdens, her heart well. I have not repented of my selfishness by re-orienting my life to my life companion’s needs. To love Jenny accurately meant that I would put her first before my agenda; that I would say NO to projects and plans to say YES to her, and so on.
“Quite proud of myself, I wrote down my one goal: “Love Jenny accurately.”
Then I shared it with her. That did not go so well. Jenny wasn’t quite as taken with the descriptor “accurately” as I was. She preferred words like sacrificially or passionately or devotedly. Accurate to her felt cold, measured, sterile. I tried to explain what I really meant, but it was clear that even in my first goal I had missed the mark. I had fallen short. Still, over time, Jenny has come to accept the word. “If it works for you, fine,” she says.
Love Jenny accurately in 2021 it is. What has that meant so far?
Well, a number of things.
First, it means for both of us to get physically healthy. As I write this, we are on the last day of a seven day water fast that we’ve done with some family and friends. We needed to reboot. Our eating has not been healthy. After going off the water fast, we plan to go onto a Daniel’s Diet. Hopefully we can get our bodies back to where they should be in terms of weight and exercise, and stay there. These requires slowing down. Removing some of the things that bring stress into our life, will help us not use food for comfort. It will also mean taking more time to prepare meals that are healthy, and, for me, eating smaller portions.
Second, it means for us to focus on our marriage. In February we will spend 10 days (the first part of the sabbatical I am taking this summer) in Hawaii. We’ve never been there and are absolutely looking forward to the adventure of exploring a new place, lounging on the beach, reading books, napping. But we’re also being pro-active about our marriage. An old friend from college who was a pastor for 26 years in Salem, OR, Ben Bryson, is taking us through the Prepare and Enrich material. He lives on Maui and we will be meeting with him a couple of times to talk through where our marriage is at and get his counsel and encouragement.
Third and finally, it will take doubling down on the regular rhythms of our life that help our marriage flourish. Reading Scripture and praying together. Going for walks along the river. Taking time to calendar. Talking through the detail of our day. Helping each other with administrative details. Being patient, kind, forgiving, gentle and self-controlled. And most of all, to live in the joy and grace of the good news of Jesus Christ, strong in our identity as a son and daughter of God through his work on the cross, and cheerfully serving shoulder to shoulder together.
To love Jenny accurately is my goal for 2021? What is yours? In what relationship, role or area of your life do you need to plant a rally flag in?