Have you made your New Year’s resolutions? At this time of year, it seems everyone is planning to transform their life by establishing new habits, and as Christians, we often try to do the same in our spiritual lives. But resolutions rely on our own human effort, and if I’m honest, in the past, mine haven’t often been successful.
So this year, I’m planning a different approach. I’m hoping that digging deeper to think about my motivation will help me form better intentions for the coming year. I’m going to reflect on 12 questions – six looking back on 2017 and six looking forward to 2018. I’ll be taking one question each day and considering it prayerfully, but of course, it’s possible to do all 12 in one go. Join me in a practice of reflection that I hope will get 2018 off to a more meaningful start.
1. In which areas of your spiritual life have you grown most in 2017?
This is not about encouraging spiritual pride, but an honest appraisal of how much you feel you’ve grown. Don’t judge this by how well you’ve mastered spiritual disciplines or outward behaviors, but by your relationship with God. What has made a spiritual impact? Books you’ve read? Attending a Bible study? The support of a mentor or group of friends? Analyze what has helped you most.
2. In which areas of your spiritual life has your growth disappointed you?
Maybe you started the year with a resolution to spend time in prayer every day but haven’t managed to do so. Perhaps you’ve been trying to overcome a persistent sin, but are still struggling. It’s easy to feel we’ve failed if we judge our progress by how well we’ve stuck to our resolutions. But our spiritual growth is about getting closer to God and understanding that God loves us even when we feel we’ve failed.
3. How did you view God in 2017?
Like any relationship, we can feel closer at times and more distant at others. But as a general principle, do you feel closer to God than at this time last year? What has made the difference? Think about the names and characteristics that you use to describe God. How do these encourage you to feel closer to him?
4. Where have you seen examples of answered prayer?
Sometimes we pray about things and receive an answer, but move on with our lives so quickly we forget to ponder the significance. Actively remembering answers to our prayers helps us build our faith to ask for more next year.
5. Who has most helped your spiritual development?
Think of the many ways others have helped you by praying for you, offering their insight, or studying the Bible with you. Your support may have come from a priest, a spiritual mentor, a trusted friends, or your small group. Thank God for these spiritual friends and keep them in your prayers, because they need your support as much as you need theirs.
6. Who do you think you’ve helped most in their spiritual journey?
This may be in a formal capacity (Sunday School teacher, small group leader, spiritual mentor, role in church leadership). Or it could be informal (a lonely teenager, a fellow mom, a coworker). You may have offered hospitality or a shoulder to cry on. Your actions may have been small or practical rather than spiritual, but bringing the love of God to people in a practical way is as important as what we say.
7. In which area of your spiritual life would you most like to grow?
Perhaps you’d like to improve your prayer life. You could do this by reading books about prayer, listening to online sermons, or exploring creative ways to pray like coloring or praying with crafts. If you’d like to deepen your understanding of the Bible, commit to buying a Bible commentary like this one focusing on the Gospel of St. John, and devoting time each day/week to working through it. Whatever you’re focusing on, form a plan and ask God to help you follow through.
8. What’s one spiritual practice you want to devote more time to in 2018?
Sometimes beginning a new spiritual practice can open up a whole new dimension to our spiritual lives. Think about something new you’d like to do in 2018. It could be quite simple, such as committing to praying a novena, making a retreat, or going on a pilgrimage.
9. What can you do to become more aware of God’s presence?
Brother Lawrence’s classic devotional “The Practice of the Presence of God” focuses on how to develop our awareness of God’s closeness in the mundane activities of everyday life. The daily Examen Prayer is another tool to help us recognize God’s presence in every moment of the day. And practices like listening to spiritual music when working, taking a time to say grace before eating, or praying a breath prayer can all help raise our awareness of God’s presence.
10. What audacious prayer do you most want answered?
Sometimes we feel reluctant to ask God for things because we’re afraid our prayers won’t be heard or answered. But St. Paul urged us to approach God boldly. So, think big! What would you most like God to do this year? Keep a prayer journal, where you can record your prayers and also how they were answered in 2018.
11. Who will you look to for spiritual support?
You may already have a good support network established to support and challenge you in your daily spiritual walk. But if not, think who you could ask to help you. Finding a trusted person or group to share your struggles, pray for you, and offer advice can be a real blessing.
12. How will you live out your commitment to faith in a practical way?
You could act as a spiritual mentor to someone who’s newer to the faith — no matter how much we still need to learn, we can always help someone else on their spiritual journey. You might commit to praying regularly, volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or your church youth group are all practical ways to show the love of God to others.
Beginning a new year is a chance to take stock of our spiritual lives and consider how we can continue to develop next year. But let’s remember that it’s not about our own efforts but about trusting God to lead us where he wants us to go.