Editor’s note: This week we’ve invited our dotMagis bloggers to reflect on small changes for a big year.
Once a year from grade school all the way up through early high school, my physical education classes tested us on our level of physical fitness. The tests included things like sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping rope, and in later years, a timed mile. I was not on any athletic teams past freshman year in high school, and I did not, at the time, exercise for fun. So running a mile was not something I did on a regular basis. When it came time to do the test, I was very nervous. I didn’t want to be the last one finished. So, I ran as fast as I could for the first couple of laps. I was doing pretty well for a while, but I quickly started to run out of steam. And then the cramps started in my side. I tried to breathe through it and even pinch my side so I could keep going, but my pace was slowing with every step I took. Eventually, I just had to walk. I yelled out to the coach, “How many more, Coach?” and she broke the news (not very gently) that I had only gone a third of the way. If it hadn’t been a requirement of the class to finish the mile, I would have sat down right on the spot and given up.
I have run a mile since then, as much as 13 at one time in fact, but there has never been a shortage of things I have started at full speed just to give up in the end. And many of these things seem to happen around the same time of year: January. It is the time of year when many of us feel the urge to do something new or give up on something old, like a bad habit. So we hit the ground running at full speed, but then the cramps to our way of life start to creep in. We find that we desperately want to keep on trying, but our mental and physical energy are just not sufficient to keep us in the game, and we quit by February. I don’t know how many times I’ve started a year saying, “This time I’m gonna make this big change last,” only to feel a few weeks in just like I did that freshman year when I just wanted to lay down on the green grass and give up.
So this year, I’m going to give up on the big changes, and instead, I am going to enter into 2020 slowly, with a few small changes that will hopefully contribute to a big year ahead. Here are three things I plan on doing that maybe can inspire your own list of small changes.
1. Fostering Gratitude
I am not talking about starting a daily gratitude journal or committing to writing more thank-you cards (both things I’ve tried and failed at, by the way). Instead, I plan on finding one moment each day to be grateful for and pausing to say, “Thank you” to God for it. And, if I feel like going the extra mile that day, I hope to reach out to thank the person(s) that helped make that moment happen.
2. Finding God in Something
Ignatian spirituality suggests that we should be able to look for and find God in all things. It is difficult to find God in all things if we aren’t paying attention, and finding God in all things seems like another hit-the-ground-running, big commitment. I can, however, start small. So, this year, I hope to be intentional about looking for God’s presence in something each day. I might pause to notice God in the sun setting or rising as I drive to and from work, or pause to see God present in my children as they fall asleep each night.
3. Practicing Patience
One of my favorite Ignatian prayers is by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. In it, he says this about progress: “And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.” I can very easily want to accomplish in one year things that might take a full decade or more to finish. So, I hope to practice patience simply by repeating whenever I need to hear it the first line of Teilhard’s prayer: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”
These are just a few of the small changes I hope to make this year to continue to move towards the person God is calling me to be. What will your small changes for a big year be?
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The benefits from slow work of God are far more nourishing and soothing than those derived from fast food.
At the moment, I am reading the second half of the Book of Job. It is no easy reading, this very rigorous book of the Bible! However one change I want to implement this year is not to back away from a challenge.
I will keep looking for God in all things: my prayer book is helping me through a most difficult time here where I live, with our community devastated by bushfires. And patience is always a challenge for me so thank you for encouraging me to trust in the slow work of God, Gretchen.
Great article! Very encouraging!