Life Lines

Wait for God This Year


What new routines have you vowed to start and keep this year? A healthy eating plan? Exercise regimen? House re-organization effort? The new year offers the promise of a clean slate, a chance to begin again or try for the first time something that will improve our health, our home, our world.

I tend not to make typical resolutions, but I know plenty of people do. I remember when I was still a member of our local YMCA. When that first week of January hit, you couldn’t find a free treadmill or weight machine no matter what hour of the day you showed up. I asked a trainer, “How long will this go on?” He said, “Hang in there until the end of February and they’ll all be gone.”

We spend a lifetime—or at least a lot of years—acquiring the bad habits or out-of-shape bodies or lukewarm prayer lives that compel us to make resolutions, and yet we expect dramatic results in two months or less. We forget that undoing our habits is a one-day-at-time effort. One day at a time, one year at a time, one decade at a time.

Unfortunately, our society has brainwashed us into thinking we can find a quick-fix for everything. Pop a pill, drink a potion, buy a gadget, and you, too, will look like the plastic perfection staring out from a magazine cover. Of course, body and beauty resolutions are an easy target. They bear the brunt of the new year promises (both fulfilled and broken), because physical appearance is so important in our culture. But I know from experience that spiritual exercise routines and daily doses of prayer are no easier to stick to than that weekly abs class or low-fat diet. Spiritual renewal requires hard work.

At the start of each year, I tend to make a mental list of things I’d like to accomplish by the next year. Not anything like “lose 10 pounds,” because that seems to be a perpetual resolution in my middle-aged life. No, my list is more like this: go on a silent retreat, learn to do Centering Prayer (properly instead of the half-baked way I usually do it), clear out the unnecessary physical junk in my office that clutters my prayer life with mental junk.

I like the annual goals approach because it removes the one thing that tends to derail typical resolutions: the notion that if we screw up within a day or a week or a month we might as well give up completely. When we have an annual goal, we can continue to get back up every time we slip and know that there’s still time to make things right. And, if we don’t get to everything on our list by the end of the year, well, there’s always next year. But, it’s not likely that even our annual goals prove successful if we approach them at breakneck speed, spinning in a hundred directions at once.

In one of my favorite books, “A Gift From the Sea,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel…”

Can we still our center to achieve our resolutions and goals, whatever they may be? Even just five minutes of silent stillness can begin to reshape our thinking and our lives, and give us strength to follow through on our plans. Five minutes. Can we do that? No formal resolutions, just an unspoken agreement that we will give ourselves five minutes of every day to sit and wait for God. Just watch and see what happens.

Mary DeTurris Poust’s newest book is “Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship.”

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