Finding a New Year
So planning for this year wasn’t really possible. Who knew what 2020 would hold when we sat down with a pad of paper and wrote out intentions for the year?
Obviously, last year we had no clue we would be facing COVID, racial protests and riots brought on by police killings, wildfires that shut down the West beyond what even the virus was doing, an election that was as contentious as any we have seen in recent memory, a year so awful that a Christmas Eve bombing in Nashville would feel like par for the course of 2020.
Of course, as we come to the end of the year, it is a time when we reflect along with our culture about the previous twelve months and plan for the next. It is arbitrary in some way, but also useful. The Psalmist says “Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we may present a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
It is a worthwhile practice to sit down this week and simply recount the year, making a list of experiences and focusing on gratitude. The stories we tell ourselves repeatedly have a powerful impact on our lives. Time and time again the Bible tells us to tell the story of what God has done for us, as a nation, community, and individuals.
We can all make a list of the terrible events of 2020, and I have written and re-written that list in my journal trying to clear the path to think and write. But the power to control the narrative comes not in merely repeating what comes first to mind, but being able to make decisions about your thoughts.
Write down your Rule of Life and core values. We have covered the Rule of Life in a number of classes this year, but if you need a resource to write your own, I recommend Stephen A. Macchia’s Crafting a Rule of Life or joining one of our classes during the coming year. Writing down core values during a period of transition or stress can be a great way to set your guy lines before the storm. My Rule of Life includes core statements about who I am and intend to be. They begin, “I am a man of God.”
As you set intentions, these core reminders can help guide practices that are in keeping with who you want to be. I have found this more valuable a focus than set goals for the long run of life. Set goals I either make or fail to make, but practices I can return to again and again, even if I fail for some period during the year. And modest changes are always more lasting than drastic ones.
My core statements in my values and Rule do not change throughout the year, but my practices might change due to circumstance. For example, I wanted to lift weekly and do fitness classes this last year, but during COVID our gym shut down, so I adjusted and ran instead. I overshot my milage and never made my goals for classes or lifting, but I can still look back with a sense of accomplishment.
Finally, relationships and God. My core values statements and my Rule of Life are all about relationships, and they should be. For years, relationships never made it in my practices. I just hoped that they would flow from my good intentions, but practices eat good intentions for snacks. So a few years ago, I started building in practices for relationships. Then I go over them in weekly reviews. Did I talk to each kid every day? Did I do one Daily Office a day for prayer? Did I write one prayer a day? a week?
I joke about the secular New Year versus the liturgical new year (Advent I), but either one works as an opportunity to reflect, number your days, and set intentions that will lead to a better year. I could not imagine this year without the Bible in a Year Class or the Bonhoeffer, Theresa of Avila, or ReVive classes. We may not know what the year ahead holds, but we know the Way of Christ and with a little reflection, we can plan to walk it.
God bless you in this New Year. I am setting my intentions this week for a good year, one dedicated to being a man of God and a good pastor and priest. Hold me up in prayer as I plan for our year together, and let all of us set our our lines for another solid year of growth and life in our God, in Christ, and in his Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona