“I’m going to run every day,” or “I’m going to pray a rosary as soon as I wake up,” or “I’m going to save money by not going out to eat.” These are all things I’ve said in an effort to better myself in the spirit of New Year's resolutions.
Unfortunately, if you’re like me, those resolutions have usually gone by the wayside by the end of January, if not sooner.
Over the last few years though, instead of trying to come up with arbitrary habits for self-improvement, I’ve been letting God take the lead when envisioning the year ahead.
I don’t just want to run faster or be more efficient with housework, I want to thrive in life! I don’t just want peace or stability, I want to draw close to the heart of my heavenly Father. So with 2021 on the horizon, how can we listen for what God is calling us to in the New Year?
If we’re going to let God lead us this year, we first have to trust that He is going to lead us somewhere greater than we can go on our own.
We have to trust that He is good and that He will take care of us. We have to let go and surrender it all to Him.
Because He may ask you to do something scary or outside your comfort zone. As C.S. Lewis says in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
For Those Wanting To Discover Something New
One great way to invite God into your year is to discern a word for the year. Having a word or theme for the year can be a great way to allow God to lead you into unexpected places and experiences. This is more than just a New Years Resolution, but a lens to view everything in your life through this coming year.
For me, this word usually comes during prayer time. But the Father also speaks loudly and powerfully to me during conferences or worship with others, which is a huge blessing. I’ve received my word for the year while being prayed over by missionaries or clergy, or during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Or even hearing a direction through personal prayer, scripture, or prayer with a mentor.
For me, the word often doesn’t make a lot of sense when I first hear it but as I listen more and more, I feel a sense of peace and certainty that God is speaking to my heart. Sometimes that listening requires silence and a journal, while other times I hear him in the lyrics of praise and worship music. In my journal, I often write as if I’m speaking to Jesus, and sharing with Him my feelings as He invites me to take on this word for the year.
As long as we are striving towards God, He will try and speak to you in a still, small voice in your heart, and will bring a spirit of peace. (If you are not striving towards Him, His voice may feel pulling you away from sin and be a process to reach more peace.)
The word may hit you hard and knock you flat, or it could seem to make almost no sense at all. But either way, listen for what is clear, peaceful, and often repeated.
Once you have discovered your word, you don’t have to immediately do anything with it. But whether you are faced with a big decision or just going about your daily routine, you can allow God to speak through that word and draw you more deeply into your life in Him.
For Those Discerning A Certain Question
Maybe the new year is bringing a lot of uncertainty for you and your family, and you’ve got some big decisions to make. This is where the process of discernment comes into play. St. Ignatius of Loyola, a rich Spanish knight who had a conversion to Christianity after a cannonball shattered his leg, developed some rules to help with this process.
The first step in the process of Ignatian Discernment is to choose one question to discern at a time. A few years ago when my wife Drew was graduating from university, we were discerning what our next step would be. Would we stay in Victoria and she would start teaching? Would we both join CCO and be missionaries somewhere in Canada? The questions were just too broad, so under the guidance of her spiritual director, we narrowed it down “Jesus, should we stay in Victoria or go somewhere else?”
The same thing could be applied to other situations. Don’t try and decide “Should I move to Winnipeg and take a job with Microsoft?” Or “should I stay in Vancouver and work for Tesla?” Simplify it: “Jesus, do you want me to stay in Vancouver?” Once you’ve decided on the question, then pray for the docility to be ok with whatever the outcome. St. Ignatius calls this “equilibrium - without leaning to one side or the other.” Pray for God to enlighten you and share his desire for you, and most importantly, help you seek only what is most beneficial to His service and glory.
St Ignatius then offers a few different strategies for the actual process of revealing what God is calling us to.
The first is to pretend you have a close friend who’s in the same position and to give them advice on how to handle the situation. We are strangely better at helping others with their plans than we are at figuring out our own life, so this is a very practical tool.
The second is to pretend you are on your deathbed and you are thinking back to this decision. What decision would we have wanted to make then? What decision would Jesus have wanted you to make, as you stand before Him? You should choose the option that would bring the most happiness and joy in looking back on it.
Finally, St. Ignatius invites us to use our reason to make a decision. We could create a pro vs con list, ask advice from other people we trust, do research etc. God gave us our intellect and our minds for a reason, and always invites us to use them in determining his will.
A friend once told me “Discernment is an action word”. That means we can’t just sit around and think and pray and try to make a decision—at some point, we have to start doing the thing!
After you’ve brought all that data together, it’s time to make a decision. Do you stay or go? Break up or stay together? Go back to school or take a sabbatical? Now is the time to take the decision to prayer, and see how it feels. If you’re feeling a sense of peace, rightness, or God’s presence, it is likely the God affirming your choice. If there are feelings of anxiety, doubt, heaviness, or sadness, then God might be steering you away from that decision. He isn’t trying to test you, but trying to lead you in a direction where you can flourish.
For some decisions, we also have to trust in God’s timing. When my wife and I were in the process of discerning our move for our family, we talked with mentors, prayed, and still didn’t have peace. Then Drew shared that she had a great desire to own a house—a place where we could host and entertain people, where travelling friends could crash and dinner parties could last until the wee hours. This was a problem for us since we didn’t feel like we could do that in Victoria’s expensive market. So maybe God was calling us to move after all?
A few days later, her parents invited us over and shared with us that through a special set of circumstances we were going to be inheriting a house in the next few years. And not just any house, but a house that was designed by a Dutch family to host people for Bible study and fellowship events. A house with many bedrooms and a spacious deck on a huge, beautiful, piece of property that we could never hope to afford. We were blown away. Not even a week after Drew had shared about her desire for a home, did the Father come through with amazing generosity and had provided not only a place for us but an answer to our discernment process. We took this as a sign that He wanted us to stay in Victoria, and even if everything with this house didn’t pan out perfectly, He would take care of us and provide for us.
Now, we can’t expect that God is going to show up with a multi-million dollar solution to every question we are discerning. Sometimes He’s a little cryptic, a little sneaky, or proposes something so outside the box we just want to write it off. Discernment takes practice, patience, and much prayer, so don’t be discouraged if the process takes a while.
When you bring your heart to God, genuinely seeking what He wants, He will meet you there. God is truly a good, good, father and he wants to give good gifts to you, His beloved child. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for your welfare and not for harm; to give you a future with hope.” I pray that as we step into this new year, you would have the vision and courage to lay down your own plans, and trust that He is ready to dream big with you.
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