Every year for the past few years, I have chosen a word of the year. I do not have an elaborate process for choosing this word. Most of the time, the word comes up in my writing and reflection towards the end of the previous year. For 2020, my word was grace. It ended up being a year when I needed that word more than I realized.
Grace carried me through the roughest moments of 2020. Grace reminded me that God always has something to offer me, even when I have nothing to offer back to God. Despite the difficulties that came with 2020, I felt that grace was showered on me in abundance. I hope it was for you as well.
A few weeks ago, I was not yet thinking about what my word for 2021 would be when it popped into my head after a conversation with a colleague. She had discovered a car in the parking lot with a flat tire, around 9:00 a.m. on a busy Monday. When I learned it was my flat tire, I immediately felt frustrated by the whole situation. Now I have to call for help to change the tire. Then I have to get the car to the tire shop to replace or repair it and then get back to school probably hours later. This is going to ruin my morning.
In the middle of calling for roadside assistance, I went up to my colleague to verify that the car was, in fact, mine. As I examined the photo on her phone, I whined aloud, “Oh, this is all I need today!”
She just looked at me and said bluntly, “What if I hadn’t seen it, Gretchen, and you discovered it when the day was over, and it was time to pick up your kids?”
I thought about that comment through the next couple hours of getting my car fixed. At first, I wanted to push it aside. After all, I just wanted to wallow a little in how bad my morning was going to be. As I continued to think about those words, however, I began to realize how quickly I jumped to the most negative (and ridiculous) of conclusions. In fact, I realized, I did this a lot—jumping to the worst conclusion before examining a situation from all angles.
As I was sitting in the tire shop all masked up and waiting for my car, the word perspective popped into my head. As soon as it was in my head, I tried valiantly to shoo it away. Not this word, Lord, I thought. Grace was beautiful. It was edifying. It was just for me. This word is challenging. Why would you want to challenge me in 2021 after the year we’ve all had?
The word just would not leave me alone, however.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius challenges retreat directors to consider perspective when they are working with retreatants. He invites them, before making any corrections or adjustments to a retreatant’s thinking or commentary, to try and see why the person has said what he or she said or why the retreatant believes what was said to be true from the retreatant’s perspective. Ignatius invites the director to try and understand why a retreatant has taken a particular stance. He wants the director to explore what’s behind what the person is saying, believing, or practicing. When there are two ways to interpret what another person is saying, one should assume good intent first.
The same could be true about situations as much as people. When there are two ways to interpret a situation, St. Ignatius would invite us to assume the positive outlook first, I believe. We should look for the reasons why a situation is not so bad or could lead to something good in the end. This is such a challenging invitation, though, even when I know it will improve my attitude tremendously!
We are already one week into 2021, and I am still struggling with the word perspective. But I cannot imagine a better word to help me enter this year. Now, more than ever, we are being invited to consider the perspective of our fellow human beings. Now, more than ever, we are invited to try to see the positive before the negative of every situation. It’s what’s going to give us the strength we need to move forward. It’s what’s going to give us the compassion we need to work together for a better world.
How can the word perspective inspire your heart as you begin the year?
Photo by Sebastian Huxley on Unsplash.
Nice. Thanks Gretchen. Invitation to consider the perspective of our fellow human beings first is a healthy outlook. It can lead to a constructive discernment. AMDG can follow after that.
Thank you, Judy!
I usually read the ignationspirituality.com blogs but had skipped this one. I was getting frustrated and angry with various things. On Saturday my wife and I had to go somewhere in the car and were already running late. When we reached the car I realised the front tyre was flat! “That’s all I need” were my words too. It was an opportunity for my wife to gently tell me about your blog. I’ve no idea why the tyre was flat – I pumped it up and 3 days later it is still fine – except for thinking it was God’s way of arranging a moment for me to be challenged to change my attitude, to alter my perspective. That flat tyre will continue to serve as a reminder to me too, I hope. You’re right, it’s not an easy word (self-pity is so much nicer!) but it is a really important word for this year. Thank you for what you’ve written.
Thanks for sharing! It does seem flat tires often come at a time when we need a lesson, huh?
Really made me think about my actions and reactions to things
Perspective thank you I certainly find it challenging, to me it implies choice, being aware of this causes me to think rather than react.
A fine reflection, Gretchen. Maybe 2021 can be the year when our objective is the subjective. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he knew all about her. Instead of being judgemental about a woman who was there alone in the middle of the day he spoke to her compassionately and directly. Jesus changed everything for her. As he does for us.
After just reading your commentary in my “Jesuit Prayer Team” email, I opened this. What a wonderful surprise this was and exactly what I’d expect from your “perspective!” I can only imagine how fortunate the boys at Jesuit are to have you with them learning to flourish together. Will also keep that little 2nd grader in my prayers. God bless you. Keep up the inspirational work you do so well. Perspective it is for me in 2021 too. Thank you. Marcel Viens, St. Paul H.S., Santa Fe Springs, CA
Thank you Marcel!
I love everything about this reflection, Gretchen!