September’s here, the kids are back at school, and most of us are ready to move from the lazy-hazy chaos of summer to a bit of life-structure that helps us make the most of our time and energy. As we set up our fall routines, this is also a great time to make fresh starts in how we live our faith.
Here are ten suggestions of ways to make a fresh start this fall, in our spiritual lives, in our communion with others, and in our God-given mission. Choose your own adventure! Pick one to start with, pick one a month for the ten months of the school year, or take some time to come up with your own spiritual fresh starts.
Caveat: I firmly believe that God wants us to be proactive and plan the best use of the gifts he gives us. However, I believe more even more firmly that somewhere along the way, he is going to change those plans. Being sensitive to the ways he does this is critical. You are not the master of the universe, or even your own schedule 24/7, 365. Let God disrupt your plans, remove and add things, and change your goals. Holiness is found in following him, not your agenda.
In our Spiritual Lives
- Seek silence.
When we are used to the noise surrounding us, sometimes silence feels deafening. It takes willpower to carve out precious time that is not saturated with noise and just let our minds rest. Silence also leads us to God.
Psychologists tell us that the myriad of daily problems that invade our minds in the hours when we should be sleeping are issues that we never allowed to surface and be resolved during the day because we shut them out with noise and activity.
As Catholics, if the only time we spend in silence is during our times of prayer, these issues will rise to fill that time, frustrating and distracting us when we want to give our full attention to God.
The solution is to cultivate times of silence outside of prayer. Shut off the 24-hour news cycle. Go for a walk without your earbuds in and enjoy the quiet. Keep the radio off when you’re in the car.
Silence, after the initial culture shock of it, brings peace. It lets our minds solve things, lets creativity have space in our thinking and allows us to focus on God alone when are in times of prayer.
To do: check yourself- how much time in your day is de-cluttered from noise? Where can you add time for silence?
To read: Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.
- Declutter your soul
If summer’s off-beat schedule made nightly examens and regular confession challenging, now is the time to get back into them.
The nightly examen is not a time to beat yourself up for all the things you did wrong during the day (it’s so strange that so many of us instinctively carry this warped idea…). It’s a moment of grace when we can put ourselves in the presence of God and ask him to show us all the ways he was there in our day, the ways he loved us, the ways we loved him and the ways he wants us to grow and continue in conversion. It’s a conversation between the lover and the beloved.
When we are used to a regular examen, it makes going to confession a desire and a joy. The God who loves us wants to free us from the stains of sin we carry and fill us with his grace to live more deeply in his heart – all day, every day.
To do: Start taking a few minutes with the Lord to look at his love in your day. Schedule confession on your calendar. Make family confession a regular occurrence, then go celebrate your clan of squeaky-clean souls with some rewarding treat (ice cream is perfect!).
To read: Fr. Marco Rupnik’s book Human Frailty: Divine Redemption is the best book I’ve read on the beauty of the nightly examen.
- Make Prayer a Priority
Re-commit to prayer! Find and schedule your time for personal prayer, whether it’s meditating on the Gospel, adoration, the rosary, or sacred reading. Plan when you are going to have your monthly and annual retreats, and try to find ways to manage family schedule conflicts in advance. Try keeping a simple prayer journal. God’s presence is all around us, but we sometimes don’t recognize it until we connect the dots later on. Keeping a prayer journal is a great way to see his work in your life. Never done it before? It’s easy. Take a few moments after prayer to jot down your thoughts and any lights that you received in your prayer. Take some time weekly or monthly to read over it, look for themes in your life and prayer, see how God is speaking to you, and where he is leading you.
To do: build a consistent commitment to prayer into your daily life. Find the times you can block out to spend with God, and make them the top of your priority list for each day.
To read: the Gospel. Let Christ, the Living Word, speak to your soul.
- Read Soul-Food
Good books lead us to God, whether it is a spiritual book, good literature, or non-fiction. Books can hold a mirror up to our lives and souls and help us see God, ourselves and others more clearly, more deeply. Make time to read or to listen to audiobooks.
To do: think about when in your daily and weekly schedule you can find time for reading. Think of authors and genres that resonate with you.
To read: Check out the recommendations from Legionaries, Consecrated and lay members here.
Building Communion in your Relationships
- Practice being Present
Multitasking is a MYTH. It fragments us. Whatever you are doing — do THAT. Whoever you are with — be with THEM. Trying to divide your attention for efficiency’s sake never works as well as giving something or someone your full attention and effort. You are never going to get below the surface because you aren’t really paying attention, and you are missing out on the richness of what God is asking you to do in the moment. When you try to multitask people, it’s tragic. They are left feeling unimportant to you, and you are left without really knowing them well.
To do: one thing at a time. If you’re too busy, make a schedule of how that can work for you. Make daily lists of what needs to get done today, what should get done soon, and what would be nice to get done but isn’t necessary so that you can organize your attack plan.
To read: Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s The Sacrament of the Present Moment.
- Take fresh notice of the needs, interests, and dreams of those around you
Our relationships become much more vibrant when we start to see people as God sees them. There are billions of unique people that Jesus Christ is crazy in love with. And some of them are in your life. What a privilege! Discover them with new eyes! Don’t just look for what you want to see in your spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers – ask Christ to show you what he sees. Then pay attention moment by moment. Discover their routines, their joys, what irritates them, what they dream about. Get to know their story, and let God love and serve them through you.
To do: pay attention, detailed attention, to people. But not in a creepy way. Simply be focused on the person in front of you instead of on yourself. Notice what they enjoy talking about, what their tastes are, what makes them laugh, what makes them uncomfortable, and what they enjoy doing.
To read: Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. It’s geared at marriages, but it will teach you a lot about everyone else in your life too.
- Check out what’s on the parish calendar
Your pastor, DRE and parish leadership team have put together a program of formation and evangelization that they are rolling out with that optimistic and hopeful anticipation that fall brings. Check it out! See how you can get involved! Look at your family calendar and find ways to be actively involved in parish life.
To do: bring home the bulletin and talk about formation and service opportunities as a family. Find what fits your family, and put it on the calendar.
To read: Sherry Weddell’s transformational book Forming Intentional Disciples.
Living Your God-given Mission
- Seek balance
This is foundational for living as a missionary. First, we have to take care of ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, and then we also need to look at the health of our family life.
“Self-care” is thrown around as a kitschy term that usually implies indulgence, spa days and chocolate. Christians are tempted to think that self-care is for the weak who can’t white-knuckle their way through giving every drop of mental and physical energy they possess to other people. Real self-care means loving yourself so you can love your neighbor AS YOURSELF… If you don’t take care of yourself, you who are the beloved of Christ, that sets the bar for loving your neighbor pretty low. God knew how bad we would be at this. That’s why he made it a commandment:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'[f] The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'[g] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
To do: Evaluate what you and your family need for healthy balance; nutrition, sleep, fitness, leisure, and prayer. Work towards incorporating it into each week.
- Kick Time-wasters to the curb
Spend Less Time with Your Computer or Phone. You won’t realize how much time social media and video games suck out of your day until you attempt to limit them! It’s hard! They were actually designed by neurologists to maximize addiction by stimulating the release of dopamine, thereby getting you to stay/play more, so the tech company gets more of your screen time, and more money from advertisers. You are selling your eyeballs to Facebook and Clash of Clans for a hit of happiness. Try to break the addiction and develop the will of steel that will allow you to use technology in a healthy way.
To do: set technology time limits for yourself and family members. Then set boundaries on what you will and will not consume on technology. Nothing that will lead you to sin. No (or limited) trivial time-wasters. What is meaningful to you in your social media usage and why? Be conscientious in choosing what to scroll through and click on. If video games are your stress release, moderate them and find other healthy ways to relax as well.
To read: A GREAT book by Christopher Blum and Joshua Hoschchild A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (read the regnumchristi.org review here)
- Plan to Give
Plan to give of yourself this year. Be brave enough let God stretch you. In what ways are you going to share the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has entrusted you with? How can you and your family live as missionaries in your own circumstances? When will you do it? What sacrifices are you going to make so that it’s possible to serve God and others? Schedule it out and plan it together
To do: research (and dream up) ways to serve those around you who need to know the love of Christ concretely. Look at the acts of mercy for inspiration. Check out RC team leader and blogger Holly Gustafson’s family ideas for living the beatitudes and works of mercy. She has five kids. No excuses.
To read: Allen Hunt’s book, Life’s Greatest Lesson, isn’t just a playbook for how to give your time, talent and treasure. It’s a Catholic page-turner that will inspire and motivate you to be grateful for all of the ways you CAN give. Read it, and buy a copy to share with someone else!