12 PlayFull Practices for a New Year
by Troy Cady
We hear it frequently every December and January: “Happy New Year!”
This is surely an important time of year. It is a season of renewal. Now that I am older, I am beginning to cherish the celebration of a New Year more and more. Hearing so many people wishing others a Happy New Year gives me hope because it’s really a simple way of blessing others. No matter who I meet, no matter who I see this time of year, I can look them in the eye and say Happy New Year with a full and sincere heart.
This simple three-word wish gives me hope because I see it as a small way in which we can set aside our petty differences to acknowledge the common humanity we share, the sacredness of every soul we meet. It is actually an opportunity to acknowledge that we are all works-in-progress, that we all share hardship and joy, that we all need grace, that everyone desires to have a happy life—and that our own happiness is connected to the happiness of others.
Our declaration of Happy New Year indicates to me that we instinctively know something essential about happiness: namely, it cannot be hoarded. The more it is shared, the stronger it grows in one’s own life. The happiness of my neighbor in no way diminishes my own happiness. On the contrary, as I wish my neighbor true happiness, I experience the happiness that comes with such a wish.
This year I am mindful that the previous year was especially difficult for many people. Many of us are just plain dog-tired because of tragedy, conflict, hatred, chaos and confusion. Many people feel as if they have been put on trial, harassed and helpless. Many feel as though the slightest incorrect utterance will result in societal contempt and relational exile. Many are walking on eggshells, afraid of judgement. Others feel the human footprint on the world has become debased—little more than “rats’ feet over broken glass in our dry cellar.” (T.S. Eliot)
And yet, we find it in ourselves to persevere. Year after year, we say Happy New Year and with those three little words we declare: “I am not resigned. Let’s hope together. Let’s hope for a better future. Let’s lay aside our cursing and bless each other instead.”
This commitment to renewal is how humanity has survived and flourished for thousands of years. We see ourselves in light of the power and grace of time—and, as the cycle turns, we say: “Let’s keep going. Let’s not give up. Let’s change what needs to be changed and let’s hold on to what truly endures. Let’s forgive what we’ve done wrong and let’s work towards healing and reconciliation.”
The writers of The Anatomy of Peace describe well what it takes to effect change. We nurture healthy change in two basic ways:
1. Helping things go right, and
2. Correcting things that go wrong.
The authors assert that, if we want an environment that is healthy and life-giving, we will spend most of our time and energy on the former—and, therefore, very little time and energy on the latter. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? The more time we spend helping things go right, the less time we have to spend correcting things that go wrong.
But that is easier said than done. If we are to spend most of our time helping things go right, we need to be intentional and deliberate about it. Good habits tend to be cultivated like flowers. Bad habits tend to grow easily like weeds. Being human is hard work sometimes (maybe: most of the time). Despite that, I’m convinced the work of being a healthy human doesn’t have to be burdensome. I’m convinced the kind of work it takes to be healthy is actually delightful, even playful. Those who learn to enjoy their work are as healthy soil: seeds sown in such enriched earth produce a stronger, more abundant crop.
When the disposition of the heart is positively inclined, there is little room for the negative. If we would ever be able to spend all our time practicing what is good, we would have no time to practice what is harmful to us and others. Of course, that is the ideal—but it doesn’t play out in reality. That’s why any attempt to practice what is good needs to include grace—grace for yourself and grace for others.
Grace is life’s great trump card. If you were to pick only one thing to practice to “help things go right” it would be the practice of giving and receiving grace. In my PlayFull ministry, I put it this way: Grace is the soul’s way of playing. Grace is precisely the way we “play from the inside out.”
Grace is important because it reminds me that the way to a better life, the way to work for a better world, is not simply a matter of “mind over matter.” Though I advocate the power of a positive mindset, I do not wish to give you the impression that that is all one needs to have a happy life. After all, I can still hurt someone while thinking positively about myself (I know: because I do it sometimes). Positive thinking only gets me so far. Positive practices get me farther—and grace reminds me I’m still a work in progress (as are others).
But I am getting ahead of myself now: I’ll write more about Grace in the days to come.
As a start, here are the twelve practices I hope to live by this year and I invite you to join me. Because twelve might seem like an awful lot to pursue, feel free to narrow the list or substitute something on the list to suit you. I offer these twelve because they make sense to me but I also figure they might resonate with you, too—because, I’m convinced, these particular practices have a sense of timelessness to them. That is, they will always be valuable practices, no matter what year it is. Here they are:
1. Offer hospitality.
2. Share special celebrations.
3. Express gratitude.
4. Befriend silence.
5. Practice wholly (holy) listening.
6. Take care of your body.
7. Remember to rest; enjoy Sabbath.
8. Give and receive grace.
9. Give generously.
10. Keep learning.
In the days to come, I will write a little about each practice. I hope you find my observations helpful and I wish all of you the happiest of days in 2018.
May Joy and Peace Flourish,