It’s not too late to give yourself the gift that you will treasure throughout your life, wrapping it up as a year-round, realistic New Year’s Resolution as well:
Aggressively and unapologetically learn to think for yourself.
In a society that worships conformity — in both its secular and religious institutions — individuals can’t get through a day without someone, somewhere, directing their thoughts, opinions, desires, and dreams. While escaping this trap doesn’t demand that we hide in our homes like hermits, it does mean that we avoid, limit, control, or drop completely outside influences that demand to govern who and what we are.
The word you’re looking for this year is Sabbatical, which is a period of time that you take away from something, generally work, but we’re going to broaden the scope:
Break away from Breaking News
1) Take a Sabbatical from the news. If your primary source of learning about what is going on in the world is a network news show or conventional newspaper, take a break. Corporately controlled and driven by advertising, major mass media is not balanced and neutral – even when it trumpets that it is – and day in, day out, as it drones on about the fiscal crisis, our education system, terrorism, the “war” on drugs, the actual wars that we don’t label as such, it subtly shapes how we think, and what we think about. Too much speculation substitutes for information, and the end result is that we go around with feelings of fear and insecurity.
For one week, just one week, don’t listen to these voices. It’s highly unlikely that you will miss any major, real, news, and remember, while information is useful for drawing conclusions, misinformation, or partial information, or skewed information, is not. Getting away from it all gives you an opportunity to identify these fine, hairline distinctions.
Seek Silence; Be Still
2) Take a Sabbatical from church and its activities. I know, I know — “Forsake not the assembling of one another,” (Hebrews 10:25), the preferred verse of guilt lashed on the backs of people who express dissatisfaction with establishment church services.
I’m not telling you to leave; I’m just suggesting that you take a break — three weeks, say — and withdraw from a weekly dose of other people coaching you on what the Bible you’ve got on your coffee table, which is written in the language you speak, is saying.
Turn off the voices, in the way you turn off the TV, and give yourself permission to think, question, read, and take your concerns directly to God.
As a side note, you might see how much of your social life is wrapped around your church, and that the “assembling yourselves together” is unhealthily limited to one building, one church, and one group of people. You might also see how many brethren are willing to fellowship with you outside of a prescribed, controlled environment.
Good Works Start at Home
3) Take a Sabbatical from commitment. Not real commitment — as in the responsibilities toward your spouse and children and others who are dependent upon you — but all the community service requirements we impose upon ourselves because we’ve been told by everyone from the president to the pastor, that we are selfish beings who need to give, give, give to organizations and government institutions that wouldn’t survive without free labor.
If this sounds cynical, remember that the process of learning to think for ourselves means that we don’t accept ideas simply because they are loudly, repeatedly, and forcibly made, or because someone smiles at us from a full back page ad in a newspaper. Following the money — before you give any more of it or an hour’s worth of your time — is always a good first step, and if a charitable, community, government, or volunteer organization is worth giving your time and money to, it will stand up under scrutiny.
As with abstaining from church, give yourself a three-week break from meetings, bake sales, phone calls, or doing anything for anybody who isn’t a member of your tribe. Use this time to focus on your tribe — the people who warm and embrace your heart — and make sure that you are meeting their needs, first. It is not selfish to care for, and about, your family.
It’s Not Forever
A Sabbatical is not permanent — it is a much needed break in which we can think and live without the usual influences exerting their force. We may, or may not, decide to re-enter the worlds of news (which should really be written “news”), church, or community service, but none of these three circles will dry up and blow away if we choose to abstain for a week, or two, or three.
We, however, will learn new things — about ourselves and the world in which we live — and what could possibly be bad about that?
Read more from Carolyn Henderson at Commonsense Christianity.