Categories
Ink Slingers Lynette

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionsThe days of December marched on, steadfastly moving forward, boldly proclaiming the finality of another year. Even before the day after Christmas had completely dawned, I could feel the annual ritual beginning to stir. I secretly braced myself for the onslaught of questioning that would soon be the unavoidable focus of conversation for several weeks to come. Only hours into my day, my unsuspecting friend with great enthusiasm quipped, “So, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” I smiled and politely responded, “I’m not sure yet,” all the while fighting the urge to launch into a long verbal dissertation on my utter disdain for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I chose to excuse her well-intentioned question and listened with sincere interest as she eagerly told me of her plans for the coming year.

The Rub with New Year’s Resolutions

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t make resolutions. I think resolutions to act or not act in a certain way are essential to our growth as individuals. But I also believe our approach is grossly misguided when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t provide any empirical evidence to confirm that belief, but my own experience and observations have led me to question our obsessiveness with this somewhat futile endeavor. For many years, I blindly followed society’s New Year’s insanity without a thought to what I was really doing. I’d conjure up the perfect resolutions and start out on January 1st with vim and vigor, only to fizzle out within weeks. Observations of those around me confirmed the same behavior. And it wasn’t just a behavior change; a significant amount of money was being spent by myself and other individuals trying to achieve these self-imposed feats of willpower and endurance. The question that began to weigh on my mind was twofold: why do we subject ourselves to such torture every year and why do we fail so miserably at staying the course?  

The answers, I feel, are not as complicated as one might assume. Human behavior can be quite complex, but when we view our behavior in light of how and why we were created, the reasoning behind our actions becomes much more clear. I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that it is built into our human nature to strive to improve who we are as individuals. Just look around and the evidence is clear; self-help books and motivational talks, exercise programs and equipment, classes on virtually any topic you want to become more proficient at, etc. At the core of that desire to improve is our God-given call to holiness. Scripture is replete with verses confirming we are to seek holiness above all things: “Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16); “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7); “…offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,..” (Romans 12:1), to name a few. Denying this innate call only serves to undermine our ability to grow to our fullest potential as individuals, for we were created to be images of our Creator Himself.

Our failures to achieve that which we set out to do with such resolve at the onset of a New Year are found, I believe, within that very same calling. Perfection is found only in God, and therefore only God is capable of bringing anything to perfection. As New Year’s Day crept closer and closer, I found myself resisting, even more, the nagging insistence to jump on that bandwagon of resolutions. The stark reality was that change was needed, and not just small, insignificant change. For months, I had known what those changes were, but I also knew, from previous attempts, that those changes were next to impossible for me to implement. It was exactly that mindset, however, that these were changes “I” needed to bring about, that had driven me to failure every time.

New Year's Resolutions“Take Over, Lover of my Soul
Take Control
I surrender, There’s nothing I want more
Than to know you, LordWhat am I supposed to do with all my kingdoms next to you
You’re the Lord, You’re the Lord
I could gain the world and more
It’s all nothing next to you
My reward..”
(Take Over, Shane & Shane)

I was scrambling to get ready to leave for an appointment, but as the music and the words of this unfamiliar song filled my room, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, stunned. Those things I needed to change – those “kingdoms” I had so carefully built with stones of selfishness, pride, and vanity, were nothing. Like a queen desperately trying to defend her king in a losing game of chess, there comes a time when she realizes she is left powerless to protect him. She surrenders, and a new king reigns victorious. At that moment, who did I desire as my king? How many more battles I willing to engage in to try to protect those kingdoms? I let my heart answer; there was only one King I truly desired, the one whose kingdom I knew was everything, and I was done fighting.

Inevitable Surrender

I surrendered that morning. I laid down my weapons and simply asked Him to take over. New Year’s Day came and went and I didn’t make a single resolution. God was already quietly working on my heart in the shadows, stripping me of my kingdoms, one by one. Some I freely let go of, others were taken from me. But through it all, I would play that song and let the words become my prayer. And then, I would surrender again, and again, and again.

The process has not been easy, nor has it been painless. What worthwhile change ever is? I am still a work in progress, but He has accomplished more in me in the last month than I could ever have hoped to achieve on my own. As long as I “show up” everyday willing to answer the call to pursue holiness, He will continue to bring about that perfection in me with His grace and mercy. “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)

The world doesn’t need our New Year’s resolutions, it needs our surrender. A surrender to all those kingdoms that make us less than who we are called to be; beloved kings and queens in the eternal kingdom of our Lord.

How are you surrendering to our Lord this year?
Categories
Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Jumping Off the Complain Train

Sometimes, I’m a willing passenger. But most of the time, I promote myself all the way up to chief engineer.

I’m talking about the Complain Train that I frequently find myself on. Let me tell you, last night I was definitely the chief engineer, taking the lead and steering my complain train all over the place, not stopping for anything or anybody, spewing complaints left and right.

How I relish my role as engineer of the Complain Train! Look out world—like it or not, this train is coming through! I say. Complaining makes me feel validated. And heard. And it gives me an opportunity to let off some steam, much like the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza establishes a holiday (“Festivus”) where one of the main activities is the “Airing of Grievances,” (i.e. “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”).

Except the Complain Train is a train bound for nowhere (isn’t that a song?). It has no triumphant ending, no satisfying resolution. There’s no pulling into a station with a great sigh of relief and feeling of accomplishment. The Complain Train is nothing but an unproductive, herky-jerky, never-ending ride through Frustrationville, Crabby Corners and Waste-of-Time Town. It’s a fruitless journey.

And that doesn’t take into consideration what this harmful habit does to the state of my soul.

Because Sistas, here’s the truth about complaining: It steals my joy. It brings down the people around me. And it does absolutely nothing to change my circumstances. In fact, verbally flinging all that unhappiness into the atmosphere “boomerangs” the words right back into my brain and magnifies them even more. When we complain, the problems often become bigger, not smaller, especially when we aren’t really in the mood to look for solutions to those problems. Sound familiar? **raises hand**

I don’t purposely summon the Complain Train. I don’t seek it out or buy tickets in advance. It just seems to show up and I simply hop on with no hesitation. I don’t even think about it, I just get on and go. Not good.

I need to figure out how to permanently derail this train. What better time than the start of a new year, right?

In 2018, I hereby resolve to:

  • Pray to be more mindful of what triggers my complaints. When I become more aware of the situations (and people?) that compel me to climb aboard the Complain Train, I can pause and reframe the situation in a more objective (and at the same time probably a more merciful) manner. If my pet peeve is standing in a long checkout line, I can put myself in the shoes of the unfortunate cashier who is not in charge of staffing but who probably wishes she was. “Poor me” soon becomes “Oh, that poor thing!
  • Pray to speak only positive, encouraging words about people and to people. This can cut down on both complaining and its close cousin, gossip.
  • Practice counting my blessings and developing a habit of deep gratitude that simply overwhelms any impulse to complain.
  • Pray for others more often and more fervently. By focusing on the intentions of others, I am less likely to shine a spotlight on my own concerns.
  • Serve others less fortunate than I am. It’s a fact that on days when I get to serve as a hospice volunteer, I do not find myself anywhere near the Complain Train.
  • If I truly need to vent, I can choose to use my prayer journal to outline the problem and prayerfully seek the solution. Jesus is big enough to handle my complaints and loves me enough not to keep me wallowing there.
  • Just flat-out hold my tongue. Like my mom used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” And, more powerfully, as St. John of the Cross instructs us: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Boom.

Goodbye, Complain Train. This passenger is ready to disembark and hang up my chief engineer hat for good. Or better yet, maybe I’ll look for a Mercy and Forgiveness Train—All Aboard!

 

Categories
Domestic Church Mary P.

Financial Stewardship: Creating A Family Budget

Happy 2017! The new year means that people are thinking about ways to change and fix all the things about their lives that need changing and fixing. Faithful Catholics might think about improving their spiritual lives – resolving to start praying more, going to confession more, yelling less, being more grateful, etc. In the midst of that crucial spiritual stock-taking, I want to propose a more “practical” item that deserves consideration – finances. Specifically, I want to address creating a budget.

Money issues are a practical matter, but they have spiritual implications as well. For example, one of the major causes for marital strife and even divorce is financial difficulty or disagreement. Having a workable family budget goes a long way toward creating personal and familial harmony. Without a budget, there is much more room for stress and conflict. More broadly, money is a tool to be used in the service of our calling as spouses, parents, and missionary disciples. We must be good stewards of it in order to carry out that calling. Budgeting is part of that stewardship. 

I’m not in any way a financial professional or expert. Rather, I’m a wife and mom who takes care of the family finances, and has finally found a budgeting system that I can stick to (after eight years of marriage and many failed attempts). I’m someone who has witnessed the dire consequences in people’s lives of not being good stewards of their money. As such, I believe in the importance of budgeting, and want to share some tips for those who do not have a budget.  (There are many resources out there for further information on the topic of budgeting and being a good financial steward). 

  1. Recognize your need for a budget. Even if you are in the top tax bracket, you need a budget. Budgeting isn’t just for those who must watch every penny simply in order to feed their families. On the flip side, even if you think your budget would never be “in the black,” you still need one. You might think that your necessary spending outweighs your income (and thus rely heavily on credit), but creating a budget and tracking your spending will help you see where you might be able to cut back so that your budget can balance.
  2. Find a budgeting tool that works for you. Even if you use pen-and-paper or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that your craft your budget in a way that makes the most sense to you and is easily implemented in your life. I use a website called EveryDollar (created by financial guru Dave Ramsey). Until I discovered this website, I had never been able to create a budget that accounted for all my expenses (not just the monthly, predictable ones), let alone one that I was able to stay on top of. There are other websites and apps out there. Look around to see what will work for you. Take advantage of free trial offers for paid programs (as long as you can trust yourself to cancel before the trial is over if you decide you don’t want to use it!)
  3. Work with your spouse to create the budget, and make a mutual commitment to stick to it.  You both need to be on board with the budget in order for it to work! If either of you are reckless spenders, the budget will be sabotaged. (If you or your spouse are unable to get your unnecessary spending under control, considering talking to your priest or a counselor). Communicate and re-evaluate the budget often.
  4. Use a “zero balance” budget. This is a type of budget where you account for every penny that comes in. If you bring in more than you spend each month on necessities and “extras,” consciously allot the rest to savings or to paying down a debt. By using this kind of budget, my husband and I were able to pay off our student loans more quickly. You should go back and adjust the budget at the end of the month to make sure it zeroes out. If you over-budget in a category like groceries or gas, you can put that extra money toward a category you may have under-budgeted for, or toward debt and savings. Adjust the next month’s budget to reflect your actual spending habits.  
  5. Budget for the bills that you pay on a non-monthly basis, and other irregular expenses. For example, our water bill is paid quarterly. Each month, I set aside one-third of what I expect the bill to be, so that the money is all there when needed. I also have funds set up in my budget for things such as clothing, homeschooling materials, and home maintenance. I put some money into each of those funds every month so that it’s there when I need it.
  6. Track everything that you spend. This is where the website/app I use has made all the difference. I am not “on top of things” enough to record every purchase I make or keep every receipt. For a fee, my budgeting tool imports all my bank activity. I can simply drag and drop each item into the appropriate budget category. Since I rarely use cash to make purchases, this has made it extremely easy to keep track of every expense.
  7. Be realistic. For example, if you think you “should” be spending only $500 on groceries every month, but you can’t seem to come in under $600 no matter how hard you try, then budget for $600 and cut back somewhere else. Part of being realistic is budgeting “fun money” for you and your spouse to be spent however you want (barring anything immoral of course). This helps cut down on the frustration of adhering to a strict budget. If you create an overly-idealistic budget that you can’t adhere to, you are likely to give up on budgeting. 
  8. Set specific financial goals and use your budget to work toward them. One of these goals should be an emergency fund for those unforeseen large expenses (which tend to pop up in clusters). Other goals might include saving for a house or a new vehicle. (It’s best to pay cash for a vehicle rather than incurring debt. But, if you have to take out a loan, you still need to have a down payment saved up). You should think about long-term goals, such as retirement and college funds, as well. 
  9. Make charitable giving (especially to your parish) a non-negotiable. The Church does not require us to give a specific percentage of our income. But we are required to help provide for our parishes. Do not give from your surplus. Instead, give sacrificially, like the Scriptural widow who gave her last coin.

Successful budgeting usually involves a lot of trial and error. Like all efforts at self-improvement, it’s probably not going to come easily at first. Don’t give up. Financial stewardship -of which budgeting is a critical aspect- is part of a life of discipleship. 

Categories
Advent Faith Formation Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Michelle Prayer Spiritual Growth

Preparing for the Christ-Child Through Prayer

 

advent candles

Advent is the season in which we wait for the coming of our Lord. We begin preparing a place in our hearts, just as Mary and Joseph did with the manger, where the newborn Christ-child will rest. There are many ways that we can help our family prepare, but one of the most powerful and important ways to prepare for the coming of our Savior is through prayer.

Prayer is one of the easiest, and most difficult, things we can do throughout our day. Sometimes prayer comes easy; other times we struggle with the words we wish to say to God. When prayer is a struggle it’s easy to fall away from the prayer life that keeps us grounded and keeps us close to God. Advent is the perfect time to begin anew and reconnect to God through prayer.

One of the beautiful things about Advent is that each week there is theme we can focus on for prayer- hope, faith, joy, and peace. When we have something in particular to focus on it seems easier to stay in prayer than if we struggle with the words we wish to speak. This Advent I plan to focus my personal prayers strictly on the main Advent theme for the week.

Week one: I will focus my prayers on hope. They may be my personal hopes or they may be focused on the hope I have for my salvation in Christ. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (Imagine the hope God has for us!)

Week two: I will focus on an increase in faith and in thanksgiving for my beautiful Catholic faith that is steeped in Christ’s love. “But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.” Matt 9:22 (Imagine how faith can heal us!)

Week three: I will focus on joy… oh there is so much to be joyful about! I will pray to have a joyful heart and soul in every situation I encounter. “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11 (Imagine the joy that will fill our hearts when we put God there first!)

Week four: I will focus my prayers on peace– peace within my family, peace for my friends and those that I love, and peace for the world. “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (Imagine the peace we will have when we rest in the Lord!)

advent prayer handsAdvent provides us the perfect time frame to begin to make a habit of concentrated prayer. They used to say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. However, recent studies tell us that really it takes 3 times as long to form a habit… 66 days! But isn’t Advent only 4 weeks? Yes, it is, but here is the good news for those who wish to begin a prayer habit- it is best to pray more than one time a day, in fact, it’s best to pray as often as possible! That means that throughout Advent (which is really 25 days this year) if you prayed 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, and night) you would have deliberately prayed 75 times! I think you can definitely make prayer a habit if you begin to focus your prayer life in this manner!

On New Year’s Day traditionally people make resolutions to help them in the upcoming year. Advent is the start of the new liturgical year in the Catholic faith. Will you make a resolution to pray more often? What do you have to lose? Imagine all that you have to gain!

What are you waiting for?