Hopes for 2023: Rediscovering life in 4D

Steve Baird is CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia. Here he shares his hopes for 2023.

Steve Baird

One of my buddies has been going through a tough time lately. A few of us sat in Tokyo, Adelaide, Palm Springs and Sydney to simply pray and be with each other and provide support for this friend. Technology allowed us to do that. Despite our physical distance, we were united emotionally, spiritually even, in this suffering. And it was, in a way, a beautiful thing.

It seems to me that you can start conversations fast when there’s history and understanding, like my friendship group had. Yet for the most part, we’re hunched over devices and living through the prism of news (and fake news) and banality. We’re becoming numb to awe and wonder. We’re living in 2D.

I yearn for us all to experience connection more deeply and more powerfully – that’s my hope for 2023.

How can we rediscover the three-dimensionality of life, let alone the fourth dimension of spirituality, when our screens have flattened our entire existence?

As I reflect on 2022, I reflect on the irony and the double-edged sword of today’s technology. I yearn for us all to experience connection more deeply and more powerfully – that’s my hope for 2023.

Saints, not selfies

Any professional role with a breadth of accountability brings natural stress. I can testify to that as a leader of a nonprofit. Outside of work, I’ve also had to navigate significant ill health in my family. These things can together tempt one to lose hope.

But if I think about my problems enough, the truth is they become self-serving. I need to find continual anchors day to day that take me out of my own situation and concerns. In that regard, IJM’s spiritual rhythms have been a source of strength and blessing to me personally.

Our team starts the workday with 30 minutes of solitude each morning. At 11.30am, we interrupt our day to pray together for our global and national work, and for each other. We set aside a full day each quarter for a team prayer retreat. These are rhythms embedded in IJM’s modus operandi globally. They enable us to do the difficult work that we do, and to keep doing it after 25 years.

I’ve instituted my own personal disciplines to complement this. I’m trying to exercise discipline around not starting and ending the day with my smartphone, by observing a phone-free hour when I wake up and before I go to bed.

When I can detach from my own problems and not get caught up in myself, I’m in a better position to hold open hands to the needs of others.

Connecting with brokenness

In International Justice Mission’s work protecting people in poverty from slavery and violence, we’re exposed to some very dark and confronting things. Mental health and self-care are more than abstract concepts – they’re real and immediate concerns. The survivors we work with in aftercare and through the legal process are dealing with deep trauma from abuse. Our staff, too, need to be acutely aware of how our exposure to survivor experiences, to graphic and traumatising material, to the details of human cruelty, can spill into our own lives as vicarious trauma.

In 2022, I made my first visits to the frontlines of slavery. Being on the ground first in Cambodia, then in the Philippines, allowed me to follow stories through to the real people behind the characters. These visits transformed for me 2D stories I read online into 3D experiences of sitting next to and listening to the investigators, lawyers, social workers, survivors.

More than ever we need disciplines that keep us connected to God and to each other.

We need to have our hearts broken a little bit and feel people’s plights, be in commune with those in deep suffering in the world – whether abroad or in our own circles at home. Compare, for example, the experience of extended conversations and prayer in face-to-face connect groups to the pandemic staple of WhatsApp messages.

In a weary world, more than ever we need disciplines that keep us connected to God and to each other. The Church needs followers of Jesus living lives for Christ so radically that we become, collectively, a tonic to a thirsty world.

Rediscover joy and laughter

Life’s become a little too muted after the pandemic. The globalisation of information and connectivity is so overwhelming in its speed and volume that it can become a wash over us, something we don’t really absorb. We need to keep connecting with individuals. Jesus stopped to chat and minister to individuals – to the one – and we should do the same.

Mental health is getting a lot more dialogue these days. We’re talking about what it means to look after our mental health, manage it well and be aware of it. Despite growing awareness and discussion of mental health, the indicators appear to be moving backwards. How do we show friendship, community, love in this context? How can the Church be a beacon of light in a world that’s struggling with this?

In 2023, let’s wake up from our slumber, see creation and each other.

Something I’ve done the last three to four months that’s become an anchor in my routine is a weekly trivia night with friends from church. We’re barely in the top half but I’m grateful for this part of my week. It’s not just fun, it’s community.

We were created to enjoy creation, to laugh and live. God takes pleasure in us enjoying things. We’ve lost a bit of that with the pandemic and the profusion and pervasion of technology in our lives.

In 2023, let’s wake up from our slumber, see creation and each other.

Onwards, to the beach

There’s a classic C.S. Lewis quote that articulates just how much we’re missing out on in our insular lives:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Isn’t it time we saw the mud pies for what they are and look to the beach?

My hope for 2023 is that we will have the eyes to hear and see both the beauty and the pain in life, to hear both the music of the morning songbird, as well as the cries of those in need. I encourage you to join me in putting into place the spiritual disciplines which will enable us to do this, to use technology more sparingly and rediscover life in 4D.

A holiday at the beach awaits.