Walking Our Faith: Not more, but better (column)
December 29, 2017
Thirty years ago when I lived in New York, I went to see a therapist during a particularly bad bout of depression. Every Wednesday I rode the subway to his Upper West Side office one block from Central Park, on a quiet side street where the tree-canopied sidewalks and buildings seemed set apart from the raucous city. I don't recall much of our sessions except this: During one meeting he observed, "You ruminate about things quite a bit. You don't seem content, there is always something you're yearning for."
We are well acquainted with yearning. It's what drives New Year's resolutions and self-help books and diet plans. Some internal longing to be different or better than who we perceive ourselves to be at any given moment.
I started to think about my New Year's resolutions before Christmas had even arrived. Not to be outdone, advertisers are filling my social media feeds with all sorts of ideas to help me achieve whatever goals I might have in mind.
The two-edged sword of looking forward to goals on a specific, recurring date, such as New Year's, is that it naturally causes us to look at the year that has transpired and measure our progress on goals we set 365 days earlier with the same hopeful determination.
(What if) Instead of ruminating on our weight loss, we decide to shop the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh food? Just that one change. Instead of being overwhelmed by our mountain of debt, we picked the card with the smallest balance and worked on paying it off? And instead of promising to read the entire Bible in a year, we decided to read just 10 verses of a psalm and prayerfully ask God to show us their meaning from his perspective?
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Which is where my propensity for rumination makes things difficult. My favorite illustration of this is of a dog worrying a bone long after the last tasty morsel is but a memory on the taste buds.
Rumination has the same fruitless quality. Long after we've passed the point of learning from a mistake, we've run it through our mind as if the regret that fills our hearts will create the same perverse satisfaction as scratching an itch.
What if we could turn this habit into something positive? What if we could follow Saint Paul, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead … toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:13,14)
I believe Saint Paul speaks from experience, reflecting his life as Saul the Tax Collector, long before he met God on the road to Damascus. So when he wrote those words later in life, he may have been wishing to put his previous life far behind.
All those goals you didn't accomplish last year? The same ones you will write again this year? The 10 pounds to lose that became 15, the credit card you paid off somehow has the same balance? Or the promise to spend more time with God to become a better Christian?
What if instead of ruminating on why we failed again, what if instead of doing more we decided to do one thing better?
Instead of ruminating on our weight loss, we decide to shop the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh food? Just that one change. Instead of being overwhelmed by our mountain of debt, we picked the card with the smallest balance and worked on paying it off? And instead of promising to read the entire Bible in a year, we decided to read just 10 verses of a psalm and prayerfully ask God to show us their meaning from his perspective?
"Not more, but better" will be our motto.
Lately I've been ruminating on a deeper relationship with God. My first instinct is a spiritual equivalent of the 10,000 hours to mastery. Every book read must be on faith, every free moment spent in church or prayer or, at the least, thinking pure thoughts. All of which may not get me to sundown on January 1st. Yet, I recall, the journalist who took a closer look at this theory discovered that it wasn't the number of hours, but focus and increasing our skills, which led to achievement.
God said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
What if I apply my passion for a deeper relationship with God by asking myself how I can get more from my weekly hour of Adoration at St. Mary's, something I enjoy and speaks to my heart? I love this quiet hour of contemplative prayer, it makes my entire week seem lighter. What if Adoration became my locus for the closer relationship I desire with God?
Not more, but better, might be a compassionate and more meaningful yardstick to measure our progress this year.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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