“So this is Christmas,” John Lennon croons from my car radio, “and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.”
He’s right to ask the question: What have you done? As the Christmas season closes out the calendar year, it’s a prime opportunity to reflect on the past few months. Specifically, we can evaluate how we have grown in our relationship with the Lord.
Nearly a year ago, I published my first article in Busted Halo titled, “This New Year, Try a Spiritual Diet.” I wanted to grow more deeply in my faith, mainly as an antidote to the anxiety I had been experiencing from the stress of the pandemic. I set a goal for 2021 to engage regularly in various spiritual practices. So, as 2021 now draws to a close, I find myself asking the question: What have I done? What have I done to draw closer to the Lord? In reflecting upon my “spiritual diet,” I learned a few key lessons.
Daily practice is more difficult than it sounds.
I consider myself to be a pretty disciplined person. Ever since I began my career in education a decade ago, I’ve stuck to a morning routine that centers me and brings me peace before I start work. This includes waking very early, making breakfast, and writing. Having cultivated such a morning routine, I thought adding a daily Scripture reading would be easy for me. But this wasn’t always the case.
In the first half of the 2021 calendar year, before my husband and I adopted our puppy, I was still working remotely. Including daily time for the Lord was, to be frank, easy. After all, I had a whole extra two hours to spare in my day because I didn’t have to commute. What a luxury! That’s where I picked up listening to “The Bible in a Year” podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz. It was a great way to have a daily dose of Scripture, and I followed it religiously (forgive the pun) — that is, until we were abruptly asked to return to the office in July.
When I had to factor in my commute again, things got harder. I could have listened to the podcast while I was on the subway, for instance, but I knew that I wouldn’t have really listened. I enjoyed following along in my Bible and making notes. So, inevitably, I fell behind, and that’s when my inner perfectionist came roaring out: I was determined to finish the podcast all by the end of the year. I couldn’t get behind. Ultimately, I was able to catch up, but some books, like poor 1 and 2 Maccabees, definitely deserve a deeper read from me.
What I learned from this experience is that it is good to strive for daily spiritual practice, and even better to actually follow it. But, as Thomas Merton writes in a prayer to God, “I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you.” My goal is to keep engaging in spiritual reading because there is so much wisdom and lessons for a life of faith in both the Bible and other writings. I really deepened my faith through daily reading. If I do listen to another similar podcast, like “St. Faustina’s Diary In A Year,” I can’t beat myself up if I go “off-schedule.” After all, spiritual reading is about cultivating an enriched understanding and connection to God, which is something that can’t be rushed or forced.
Accept that we can’t do everything – but we can do some things.
In my article, I listed a lot of different resources that can help nourish our faith lives. On the days I had the family car to drive to work instead of taking the subway, I happily tuned into Sirius XM for the Busted Halo show, played a saved podcast episode through bluetooth, or listened to spiritual music. Something I dropped, however, was reading daily devotions sent to my inbox each day. I started out well, but the amount of emails with very deep, thought-provoking materials became quickly overwhelming. I still read some from time to time, but only when I have a few minutes to really think about their content.
After my husband and I adopted our puppy Sonia in May, my Rosary walks – where I prayed the Rosary as I walked across the neighborhood bridge – were replaced by very necessary run, play, and training sessions for her. Between my daily commute and dog time, this precious walking habit that I had cultivated was lost in the shuffle. I have to admit: I miss it. I bemoaned the fact that it seemed like I had regressed to the old rat-race life I lived pre-pandemic. But then I realized: “There is an appointed time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). My Rosary walks came at a time when I really needed them most – when I was anxious over the pandemic. Now, it was time to care for a member of God’s creation that we welcomed into our family.
There may be a time when I return to my Rosary walks. But right now, as we are still building a deep friendship and love with our pup, I also realized that spending time with Sonia is in itself a spiritual practice, as I learned deep lessons on how to live out a joyful faith life from her. There are different phases in our lives, and God is present with us at every stage. I realized – and accepted – that I can’t do everything all the time, but I can do what I can at different points in my life to help me grow closer to God.
Ultimately, God wants us to approach him – over and over again.
At the end of the day, I learned that God wants us to want him. He wants us to call out to him as his children, to seek his comfort, to praise him. He wants us to invite him into our hearts. Reading daily Scripture, listening to podcasts, and prayer walks help and are all good things – but what’s most important is that we want him with all our hearts. As long as we keep God at the center, and keep him first, that’s all that matters.
So, when we reflect on the past year and our relationship with God, we should probably not only ask ourselves “What have we done?” but also, “How have we done?”