A relational and reflective new year resolution

It’s now 2019, and many people have written sweet, thoughtful posts on Facebook or other social media and blog accounts reflecting on the old year and sharing hopes for the upcoming one. I like reading the reflections, but admittedly, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. Besides, the only times I managed to temporarily conquer my sugar problem were for a couple of Lents in years past. Apparently religiosity is sometimes more motivating to me than the time of year when you keep writing the wrong date on things…

Reluctance to resolve aside, I was inspired by (naturally) a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity, interviewing Gareth Higgins, that talked about a way to gather in community and reflect on the directions our lives are going. I love reflecting, but being in a routine about it is tough, and even tougher is being in regular relationship with people I would be this vulnerable with. I want to share about the practice with you here, in hopes that I will also find a way to birth this practice into my life.

First: gather a small group of people. At least three, up to 8 or 10, to form a community (as two is just a friendship). This will be something like an accountability group (call it something else if that feels to evangelical-y for you). Gather regularly and ask each other the following four questions:

  1. What’s coming alive to you? What is life-giving to you right now?
  2. What is challenging you, draining you or taking your life away?
  3. How is your purpose for the common good showing up? (What am I here for, what is my vocation, what gift do I have and how can I use it to help heal the community? Your gift is often where your wound was. How am I leaning into this and how am I running away from it?)
  4. Having heard what we’ve heard, how can we help each other? (whether practical or existential; economical or spiritual)

Even just writing out these questions, I feel compelled to start mulling them over. Here are where my answers are leading me this week. What about for you?

  1. What is life-giving to me is my vacation home to Colorado for the holidays, full of abundant sunshine, friends and family, and my beloved mountains (see below!). I am continuing my never-ending Enneagram exploration (currently listening to The Road Back to You), which is fun for me. I am excited for friend and family gatherings coming up in the near/near-ish future, like my brother’s wedding!
  2. What is/was challenging me recently was the feeling I have when I am not my whole self, either because I am not seen for who I am or because I refuse to bring my whole self to the table (for various reasons). I also realized how much I can daydream and tune people out when I am in the presence of others, which was rather startling when my family started pointing this out to me.
  3. My purpose for the common good is showing up when I still make time for my counseling clients this week after getting back home early Friday morning, and then when 100% of them show up, which feels validating! But using my job as a therapist also feels like a cop-out, so I’m going to add that when I do things like write or make some kind of connection with others (which for me, takes intentional effort), I am also showing up for the common good. There are so many doubts and reluctances in play that keep me from writing or believing my words or my presence really matters much at all. Sometimes it takes a lot to show up.
  4. How can you help me? By reaching out and letting me know something I said or wrote mattered. By sharing your own experiences and stories – I try and let you know when I “hear” or “see” you (online) or I try to give you my full presence when we are in person (see my struggles in #2; it is easier with friends than with family). If you feel curious and maybe a little compelled to give a group like this a shot… well, it would mean a lot if you let me know!

My beloved Colorado mountains: definitely life-giving.

Making art: Also life-giving! Especially when combined with the beloved mountains.

Do you guys have any inspiring (or just regular) New Year’s resolutions? Do groups like this sound intriguing, boring, or terrifying to you? What is giving you life and how is your purpose showing up in your life today?

A monk, a monastery, and a picture book?!

The day is rare when I give an unqualified “that was so good!” review for the Speakeasy books I read and review. Well, Brother John most certainly deserves such an accolade.

Just a taste of the gorgeous illustrations.

I selected this book to review because my heart loves the Abbey of Gethsemani, monks in general, and Thomas Merton in particular (for prior posts I’ve written about this magical place, click here, or here, among others). I was under the impression that since it was an illustrated picture book, it would be more geared for children, and I imagined reading to my future kids one day about Brother John. In case you’re wondering, it’s not written for children. It’s about the meaning and purpose of life and being the best human we can be.

The book is authored by August Turak, a man in crisis, in deep despair and depression. He is sorting things out at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. There he has a heartfelt encounter with Brother John, who is one of those people whose purity, goodness, servant nature, and love for God just emanate from their very being. This encounter transforms his life.

It’s a beautiful book, short (which means I can regularly reread it) and moving. I can’t do enough justice describing it, so I will quote some pieces and just encourage you to check it out yourself, soaking in the oil paint illustrations and the rich yet simple message.

On our fear of failure (p. 26): “I imagined dedicating my life to others, to self-transcendence, without ever finding that inner spark of eternity that so obviously made Brother John’s life the easiest and most natural life I had ever known. Perhaps his peace and effortless love were not available to all, but only to some. Perhaps I just didn’t have what it takes.”

On taking the first step (p. 30): “Acknowledging that fact [that something’s twisted], refusing to run away from it, and deciding to deal with it is the beginning of the only authentic life there is… We lie to ourselves because we’re afraid to take ourselves on.”

On trusting (39): “We must resolve to act decisively, while trusting in the aid of something we don’t understand and can never predict. We must open ourselves up to the miraculous, to grace.”

I promise I didn’t give away the whole book. If you’re still looking for something for that spiritually inclined yet hard to shop for person on your Christmas list, or maybe you want to get something spiritually moving that you’ll actually read, instead of getting something to collect dust on your shelf – this is your book. I’m going to revisit it repeatedly!

Links: Brother John on Amazon
Author’s website for Brother John

This shows the inner page of the book. Title of the book: "Brother John: A monk, a pilgrim, and the purpose of life." Beneath is a picture of the Abbey of Mepkin, a tall spire of the church with the warm glow of buildings underneath it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.