My years of being immersed in Ignatian spirituality have taught me the importance of being intentional—to be dedicated to my prayer life, to be dedicated to discernment, and to live purposefully.
It is this idea of intentionality that I offer to all couples this new year as we naturally start setting our sights on goals, resolutions, and dreams. Instead of picking the first thing that comes to mind for our New Year’s resolutions, consider a process that my husband and I started using during our second year of marriage: a yearly check-in that we call the “annual Eldredge retreat.”
The process includes prayer, reflection, preparation, and dialogue. We are about to do our 14th yearly check-in, and I can vouch that this process keeps our values and priorities at the forefront of our minds throughout the year and influences the decisions we make as a married couple.
To begin: Make a list of core values.
Years ago, my husband Chris and I made a list of core values for our family. This list evolved over time, especially as our family grew. Currently, our core values are a list of ten statements that speak to what matters most to us, and they serve as a mission statement for our family. I am not going to share them all with you, but a few of ours are:
- We seek to root our lives in God.
- We seek to live lives of integrity.
- We seek to educate ourselves.
When we first started, we each spent some time in prayer separately and made a list of values that mattered to us. Then we compared our lists and noted the items that were on both lists. From there, we dialogued about the ones that did not overlap. As years went on, Chris and I developed this list as we listened to each other and noticed what principles were guiding our decisions.
Today, this list of statements serves as a guidepost for our day-to-day choices and our major decisions.
With the core values as our guide, each year Chris and I discuss areas of our lives and how we want these values to play out in each of them. We always start with our spiritual lives and then move to the other areas of our lives.
When we first started doing this check-in, we did not have children, and we would sometimes go away for a night or two to walk through this process. Today, though, we take a week or two to walk through this process, each night talking about one topic. Chris and I each spend time in prayer on the area we will discuss and then bring our notes with us to the evening’s discussion. We each take a turn sharing our thoughts on the evening’s topic, and then, like we did with the core values, we note where we overlapped and where we differed. We take our time, and when we feel the area is fully fleshed out, we write our goals for the year for that topic.
Here are the areas we look at:
- Personal—Mind, Body, Spirit
- Family—Marriage and Children
- Social—Friends and Extended Family
- Service—Church, School, Civic Community
We didn’t always do it, but now we keep financial goals for the last topic, because we want our budget to honor our values and what we’ve named as our goals for the year.
Each yearly check-in involves being intentional in three ways.
- Refining our core values list: Since we have a list of core values, we start with an evaluation of those values. Do any need to change or be tweaked? Has something new evolved in this past year that shifts something we value?
- Examining last year’s goals: Next, we move to our goals from the past year. We look at them and evaluate how we did. Did we meet them? Did we honor our core values as we did? Where could we do better? Are there any we completely missed?
- Discerning a new set of goals for the year: Using the core values list and last year’s goals, we create a new set of goals for the current year.
As St. Ignatius teaches us, our invitation is to orient our lives around God and let God guide all our actions and decisions. He also teaches us that discernment is ongoing. This check-in process, shared with us by an older married couple in our early years of marriage, keeps us grounded in what matters most. It calls us back to what our values are and helps us identify when we have gone astray. It invites us to bring God into all areas of our lives and pay attention to the movement of the Spirit in our individual lives, in our marriage, and in our family.