A very happy and blessed Church new year to you all! It is the third week of Advent and we are only a couple weeks into this new liturgical year. So… how are your resolutions coming along? Huh—what’s that? You haven’t made any yet? There’s still time.
By Suellen Dusek
21 December 2017
For many years, I’ve taken the month of November to assess how I’ve done over the course of the year with my resolutions. I consider the following things: 1) What were last year’s resolutions? 2) Where did I fail? 3) Where did I succeed? 4) What do I most need to work on? Just so that we’re on the same page, I’m talking about areas of improvement in my spiritual and personal life, as regarding my relationship with God, my husband, family and friends. With all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old attending her first day of school, I typically look forward to the first Sunday of Advent as a time to jump in and get to work! However, this year was different. I’ve realized a few things as I’ve gotten older and wiser. Here are a few of those things:
First, I’ve learned that you can’t make a list a mile long and expect to be successful, because no one can do it all. Now, I try to pick and choose what is most necessary and important. In past years, I grew exhausted and burned out early. It’s good to be realistic.
Next, I’ve realized that to be successful, one needs to be concrete, specific and choose goals that are measurable and achievable. To say, “I’m going to be more patient,” doesn’t quite work. I need to ask myself how I will grow in patience. What, or who, triggers my impatience? What should I avoid? What will a more patient me look like? What is my strategy for growing in this virtue over the course of the next year?
Another important thing I’ve come to understand is that progress cannot always be measured in check-marked bullet points. Growing in our awareness of others, being more solicitous of their needs, turning our focus outward—these are things that develop over time (think years). Sometimes we need to be content with progress made rather than goals achieved.
The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is that I need to collaborate with God on this self-improvement scheme and cooperate with his grace. That means, in part, spending time with him in prayer and asking him what HE would have me do, rather than operating from my own faulty self-assessment. It also means availing myself of his graces through regular reception of the sacraments so that I can be strengthened in my resolve to grow closer to him, my husband, family and friends.
A couple of days ago, my husband recounted to me a personal growth challenge he initiated at work. It involves choosing a word or short phrase to accompany one into the new year. This one word/phrase is meant to be an area of focus for each person who sees the need to address a deficit or further some goal. It’s an opportunity for personal growth. While my husband works in a secular workplace, it was heartening to hear that some chose areas of spiritual development. We’re all probably familiar with the saying, “Grow or die!” This is truer in the spiritual realm than in any other facet of our lives.
After our conversation, I started thinking about what word/phrase I might choose for myself. It came to me at Mass on Gaudete Sunday. I was musing on the word ‘virtue’. I realized that it’s not enough to simply root out sin from my life. Sure, that’s critical, but it’s work that is never done. As a sinner, that will be on my to-do list until the day I die. Even then, Jesus does all the heavy lifting, whereas I bear only a sliver’s weight. But, I digress. Back to virtue…
Maybe 2018 will be a good year to work on personal virtues, I thought. Which one? Ha—I could think of several! The second reading answered that question. Here are the first few verses:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NABRE):
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Joy. Prayer. Gratitude. The opening three verses provide an excellent plan of action for the coming year! And then, a promise in the last few verses (23-24):
May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
Let us cooperate with God’s grace by being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, prayerfully aware of the good works God wills to work in us, and grateful for his loving kindness and care. He is faithful and true, and he will accomplish all these things.
Enjoy the remainder of this Advent week. May God bless you this Christmas and in the new year!
Photo Credit: produced from free use photos for Joy In Truth.