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By now, I suppose that many of us have let our resolutions slide.  Maybe you tried to start exercising and then your town was iced in.  Or you started watching your diet but . . . Christmas cookies.

It doesn’t really matter what your resolution is just under four weeks into the new year is too early for substantial progress.  How can I say that?  It takes about seven weeks to establish a habit.  It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to break a bad habit or establish a new habit, it takes about 7 weeks for the new process to take the old habit’s place.

Motivation to change?  It will get you started.  Habit is what will sustain you over time but it will take time even to establish habit.

What can you do to make that change happen?  Pray.  Facing into God’s loving presence will help you find the light and energy you need to keep going.  But so can the prayers of others.  Ask your praying friends for help.  Whether its my writing accountability group, my fellow sopranos in choir or the other Bible students in women’s circle, someone will be by my side, nudging, encouraging and maybe even pulling me along.  It’s amazing how having someone by your side lightens (or perhaps Lightens?) the load.

–SueBE

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Why did Jesus have to be born during the holidays?

That’s a joke, of course. But it hints at a concern that becomes more and more clear to me with each passing year: At a time when we should be contemplating the great mysteries of our faith, we become too busy with holiday planning to do anything of the sort.

Well, the holidays are over now. Things have settled down for the most part. And I am left wondering: What happened to the Christ in Christmas?

Oh, he was there on Christmas Eve, during Mass. I remember feeling the physical presence of him keenly on our shared birthday. And then I got busy. And who got shoved aside in favor of planning and baking and socializing? You guessed it.

This is entirely my fault. I am certain there are people who are able to mix the social with the personal, who can see God clearly in everything they do, in the people they are with and the festivities set before them. I’m not one of them.

I require contemplation, quiet and serenity to access my spiritual side. The holidays aren’t exactly conducive to those requirements, at least not for me. So God gets set aside.

I’ve decided that my theme for the coming year will be “assent.” Assenting to God’s plans for me no matter what they are or how frightening the prospect. Fully letting go of my own plans for my life and placing myself entirely into God’s hands. Like Mary’s own fiat: I want to say “thy will be done” and mean it.

But that means letting God in at all times, not just selectively, when the time is right. (Okay, it involves more than that, but one problem at a time.) How is an introvert like me going to deal with living in the world while also removing myself from it? I can’t, after all, have it both ways.

How do you keep God present in your life, even when things are at their busiest? How do you live in a state of tension between being present to living and present to God?

I really want to know, readers. Clearly, if I’m going to give God the “yes” I want to give, I’ve got to have a plan. So tell me — how does one live a spiritual life and a temporal life simultaneously?

Because becoming a hermit is looking really good to me right now.

Consider the above as you work on your resolutions or goals for the upcoming year.  Schedule time to listen for that still small voice.  He may have something in mind for you already.

–SueBE

 

Advent is a season of anticipation. We await the coming of Christ, pure God and pure human, in the person of a newborn babe. But we know that, don’t we? We’ve heard the Christmas story a hundred times — probably more. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

In her Advent booklet, “Daybreaks,” author Paula D’Arcy challenges us to approach God in a startlingly innovative way: Without demands, without preconceptions, without an agenda. All we need do is walk forward. Or simply wait in silence. Sound easy? Ay, but there’s the rub.

I can’t remember a time when I came to God without a laundry list of desires, hopes, fears, plans and petitions. I expect things from God. I expect a response. I expect that I know what I want and need, both for myself and those I love.

But do I? As a good friend of mine likes to say, “How’s that working for you?” To which I can only reply, “So-so.” To come before God prepared with an agenda provides a false sense of control over my life. It helps me feel organized, prepared, on track. I’ve never been comfortable traveling my life’s journey without a map or even a compass, but now I see that the moments where I’ve allowed myself to jump off a proverbial cliff without a parachute have been the most satisfying and spiritually rewarding times in my life. That’s a big pill for a control freak to swallow.

What if we approach Advent, which is after all, the start of a new canonical year in the Catholic Church and directly prefaces our calendar New Year, without a list? What if, instead of knowing what we’re waiting for, we forget all that and see what happens instead? What if we abolish resolutions and admit that we just don’t know?

And, most importantly, what if we commit to walking toward Jesus without our usual burden of expectations? Maybe we’ll find him in the manger, just as we thought. Or maybe we’ll find him in the last place we think to look: in the face of a stranger, in the words of those we disagree with.

It takes strength to take a journey without knowing its end. But if the magi can do it, why can’t we?

2016 — the year that was. It’s practically played out, virtually put to bed. Maybe it was a great year for you (Cubs fans), but for me it was largely a crapfest. We lost some good people, and I don’t mean just the famous ones. I lost three of my beloved cats. I lost my friend Mary. I am worried about the future when I look upon the wreckage of the past.

But enough about what is practically last year. We’ve got a whole new one stretching in front of us, and lots of people are doing lots of thinking about what might happen in it…or what they hope might happen.

Think about 2016 as a suitcase. You’ve arrived home. What do you want to take out of your suitcase and discard, and what would you like to carry on into 2017? Sure, most of us would like to stuff our suitcases with money, but realistically, unless we all hit the lottery simultaneously, that’s probably not going to happen. So deal with what you’ve already got packed: your job, your relationships, and — most importantly — your spirituality.

I would like to unpack lingering bitterness toward others. It’s heavy, and it’s weighing me down. I would also like to unpack the past…not forget about it, but stop feeling the sting of regret. I would like to add to my suitcase hope, focus and direction, especially vis-à-vis my relationship with God. I’d like to know that I’m on the right path, that I’m heading toward God in the most direct way possible. Inasmuch as a person can know her intended purpose on earth, I’d like to know that I’m at least hovering nearby it.

I’ve got a few things for your suitcases, too. I wish you peace of mind and heart. I wish you honest conversations and open hearts. I wish you closer family ties and better days ahead.

And you? What will you pack in your suitcase? What are you willing to leave behind? Are you certain you need everything you’ve packed? Or are you willing to walk into the new year with an empty bag, and wait for God to fill it? Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best in 2017.

 

 

skyWhat is your word for 2016?

Many of my friends, instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, are choosing a single word to inspire their year. At one level I get the appeal.  Most of us make the same resolutions year after year. Eat less.  Drink less.  Exercise more.  Be more organized.

Resolutions don’t do much for me, but the single word approach wasn’t cutting it either.

What I really wanted to do was post a plea on my Facebook wall.  “I know that many of you aren’t religious.  I get that.  But I would really appreciate it if you would cease and desist with the posts about how narrow-minded and judgmental religious people are.  Quite frankly, it seems ironically narrow-minded and judgmental.”

I thought about it, but I didn’t post it.  I didn’t want to seem belligerent or judgmental myself.

I woke up on New Year’s Day to a stellar irony.  I hadn’t posted about lack-of-tolerance, but one of my other posts had set off a member of the narrow-minded non-religious. I hate to admit how badly it upset me.  It was even more upsetting to see how many likes her nasty comment had received.

I had to fight down the urge to comment myself. I managed to get up and walk away.

What does this have to do with prayer and faith?  The truth of the matter is that I am more than a touch confrontational. The only sport I enjoyed playing in school? Hockey. On my own, walking away is almost impossible.  Keeping my mouth shut is twice as tough.

Sometimes I manage to do it because I know it is what God wants.  Other times, I pull it off because I am busy asking for guidance.  Still other times I’m too busy giving God a piece of my mind.

God-ward.  Microsoft Word says this isn’t a legitimate word but it is my word for the year. When I am turned toward God, I have hope and can see the possibilities.  Turned God-ward, I am stronger than I am alone.  Without Him, it is far too easy to be judgmental and outspoken, two things that never build people up but only tear them down.

My word for 2016?  God-ward.

–SueBE

What do you call a group of resolutions? I nominate the word brace. Why? “Brace” not only works as a plural, it connotes resolve. And that’s the difference between a wish, a dream and a resolution: A resolution demands resolve. You’ve got to have a will of steel to make a resolution happen. That’s why most of us fail at it.

I’ve got one resolution this year: Not to make any resolutions. The very idea of it seems to hint that I know what’s best for myself and that I ought to be the one shaping my life. I’m not so sure that’s true. Now, mind you, I’m not advocating for anyone to just sit in a chair doing nothing but sighing, “God’s will be done.” Not at all. If God didn’t want us to be involved in our own lives, God would not have given us free will.

I’m simply saying that God knows better than I do where I need to go. This year, I resolve to be less of a backseat driver. (“Really, God, you want me to go there? Are you sure? I’m not sure there is really in my wheelhouse. Wouldn’t over here be better?”) I’m going to embrace the journey, even if it involves what I perceive to be standing still for long periods of time. I’m going to remember that there’s a reason for everything, even if I don’t see it.

This year, God will make my resolutions for me. I can count on God’s resolve. Mine…not so much.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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