Now is a time to take stock

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January 18, 2019

View from the Mount is a weekly column published in the Atchison Globe. Original versions may be found on their website.

In the Christian denominations that follow a liturgical calendar, the Christmas season ended and “Ordinary Time” began on Tuesday, Jan. 14. This period will last until Lent begins. So it’s a kind of in-between time, a breathing space before the demands of Lent.

However, it is not a “do nothing” time. It is a chance to take stock of our spiritual lives and see where we have grown and what things we would like to change. It is not a sin of pride to acknowledge the good things we have done – like being more present to the people in our family and our neighborhood.

Sometimes we are more present to strangers than we are to the people closest to us. It takes real effort to take time away from sports, the internet, and other activities to interact with the people we love.

This is a time to think about where we have been. Maybe we have taken a course to broaden our knowledge in a particular area, or volunteered at a food pantry or thrift store, or attended church services more often. You’re never too old to learn something new.

One woman I know decided she wanted to learn to play the piano at age 75. A recently retired sister volunteers at a food pantry and loves to serve and bring joy to people in need. Along with other growth opportunities, increased prayer always stretches us and makes us more aware of God’s love and care.

During Ordinary Time we can also think about changes we would like to make in our lives, perhaps during the upcoming Lent. I have sometimes kept a daily journal to write about my dreams, or challenges I’ve faced, or good things that have happened. Since I’m a writer, it helps me to be more conscious of what’s going on in my life.

We might like to spend less time on internet activities or perhaps we want to exercise more and eat more healthily. All of us have addictions that we would like to overcome. Spending time on the treadmill instead of on the tablet or phone would be a challenge for many of us. Those of us who are older might aim for walking 15 to 30 minutes a day instead of sitting too long.

Another area we might want to look at is the environment. Being more conscious of climate change could stir us to eat less meat (especially beef), or hang clothes outside instead of using the dryer, or combine trips or car pool to cut down on gas usage, or use cloth napkins instead of paper. Of course, recycling plastic, paper, aluminum cans, and bottles are simple things that everybody can do to cut down on waste.

It’s difficult to make changes in our lives so we need to focus on one or two. It could be overwhelming to take on too much. Like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, we need to start with one piece and gradually keep adding until the picture takes shape. We aren’t seeking perfection, just growing each day in our choices for good. In the process we will become happier and healthier people.

So Ordinary Time can be a time of assessing our lives and acknowledging our growth and what changes we’d like to make. My director when I first entered the monastery once told me that I make wonderful resolutions, but I need to put them into practice. Sorry to say, I’m still working on some of them.

As humans, we will probably chip away at making improvements all our lives. But knowing God is with us on our journey and will uphold us when we fail helps us to keep going.