New year resolutions

Author's note: This article is part of an ongoing blog (within a blog) about my adventures with living out and sharing my Catholic faith.

I wasn't planning on making any new year resolutions. In the few days leading up to the beginning of a new calendar year I'm all about sharing those cute jokes deprecating the whole idea of making resolutions at this particular time. Every year Facebook dutifully recycles them.

“My resolution is to remember to write 2014 on my checks,” one dry joke goes.

“My new year resolution is 1366 x 786,” goes another one.

Sharing them on Facebook or any other social media site is part passing on good humor, and part taking your bold (and yet still quite safe) stance against just following the crowd, doing what everyone else is expected to do at this time.

When I do plan to make new year resolutions, I eagerly defer to my Catholic faith, so very nonconformist in terms of its dates of observance and traditions from right around December 1 up to mid January, and I make my resolutions at the beginning of Advent, which is the beginning of the new Church year.

But I didn't make any resolutions at the beginning of Advent either.

In the last few days, without me really noticing it at first, I got inspired with a short list of measures I want to take to improve either my character, my life, or my relationships (or all three), have wanted to take for some time, actually. And as the Christmas season closed this past Sunday with the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, it seemed right to kind of make them official. And since it's still January, I figure it's not too late to call them new year resolutions.

Here they are in no particular order.

I want to become a better listener

I did not grow up having true active or reflective listening modeled to me for the simple reason that few people really are good listeners. But every so often I encountered someone who was skilled in the art of shutting up and listening. This person did not interrupt, did not hasten to agree or disagree with what she assumed I was about to say, did not cut in at the first opportunity to either give advice or say how she'd gone through the same thing only in a more dramatic way, and did not stare at her watch, phone or other object of distraction. Not only that she made me feel like I'd just shared the most interesting, profound or thoughtful insight she'd heard in a long time, and I'd leave the encounter with a glow and a memory of an awesome conversation that I could carry with me and which would warm me up inside for days and weeks afterwards.

I've always wanted to be that kind of person, the one that everyone feels really good about sharing with and being around. And it finally dawned on me that listening well isn't so much a character quality you're born with as it is a skill you can learn. According to Active Listening 101 by Emilia Hardman,1) there are some very specific actions I can take that in and of themselves will make me a better listener already, such as actually paying attention to what the speaker is saying which starts by stopping whatever I'm doing (physically putting it down), and focusing on the speaker's message rather than the thoughts running through my own brain (especially those of the “what am I going to say next?” variety). It goes on to give some tips about how to truly focus on the speaker's actual message and ask for clarification as needed and actually make understanding the other person in that moment the goal of the conversation. I am actually looking forward to trying out some of the tips and growing in the skill of active listening. I'm also looking forward to reading more about it and practicing a lot.

I want to get the household finances organized

I've done this before. I used to buy the Quicken software and track all the bank accounts, retirement accounts, bills and loans. But one thing I've learned is that finances are no fun when you can't pay all the bills in one sitting because the money is not there to cover them. So I'd give up at that point.

A couple weeks before Christmas it started to look as if our income situation might actually improve in a more long term way. For years my husband had been wanting to understand the financial wizardry I use in managing the finances and kept asking me to show him. I kept putting that off because not having enough money to cover bills first made managing our finances extremely complicated, and second made the whole process the antithesis of fun. Someday when paying bills is a simple process I'll show him, I kept thinking.

A few days ago the finances started to look like they might be fun to deal with again, so after a bit of online research into free money management services, I settled on Clear Checkbook,2) and Erik and I both worked on figuring it out and entering our data together. We agreed to both religiously enter transactions every single time we spent money. Over time we'll add some budget goals. The service has a utility that allows you to keep track of debts and pay them down following the debt snowball strategy where you pay off the smallest ones first then apply the payment amount towards the next smallest loan. We'll be able to see our debt reduction progress which should help boost the ole morale.

We're actually off to a good start on organizing the finances and we're only halfway through January!

I want to begin to build my life around evangelism

This sounds like a lofty goal and I've wondered how that would take shape ever since I first asked the question “How do Catholics evangelize?” a little less than two years ago. The honest truth is that this year I want to take the first steps towards this goal this year. Organizing the finances and improving the income situation is one step that will help me get there.

But there are a few steps that are more directly related to evangelism that I want to take. One of them is getting a strong sense of what my ministry infrastructure is, what kind of support I can get from my church community in general and some of the key people who will need to help me in my endeavors. I'd like to have a clear path along which I can lead someone who wants to convert, wants to get his or her life right with God and the Church, and wants to grow further in his or her faith. In this case I'm thinking of simple logistics such as what kind of education will they need and how can my church offer it, at what point do they need to meet with the priest, and what barriers in their own life situation can my church help them overcome–the Spanish-English language barrier being the most obvious one for the people I feel the most passion about reaching.

The next step concerns actually going out and evangelizing, which breaks down into various forms of going out where the people are, getting to know them, and inviting them to draw closer to Jesus. I'm becoming more and more convinced of the importance of visiting people in their homes. I'm not referring to door to door evangelism, but calling on people I have some connection with–usually because they enrolled their children in the religious education program. My goal for this year is to make one visit each week with evangelism in mind, and if I only manage to do this twice a month I will still feel quite successful. This is actually not as difficult as it may sound, because I have the benefit of a title and job description which basically tells people I represent the Church. When I approach them they pretty much expect me to talk about spiritual matters, and by signing up their children, they basically asked for it and know that. I have the opening; it's just a matter of making the time and effort to go through it.

I don't expect to have my entire life built around evangelism by the end of this year. I do expect to have lots of slots on my calendar filled with intentional evangelism opportunities which means it will have an impact on my life. It will involve blocking out time, making appointments, determining whether or not my children come with me and if not, who takes care of them, planning out a basic agenda of what topics I will cover, putting together resources to share with and leave with people. In other words, it will involve laying a foundation upon which I can build up to living an evangelism-centered life.

I've deliberately kept the discussion to the tangible practical components because it's a bit easier to wrap my head around those and clearly see the concrete actions I need to take. But I do want to acknowledge that all of this is incumbent upon living a life that is built on Jesus and nurturing a deep prayer life. I also believe that the inspiration and direction of these practical steps flows from God and the communication between us.

Surprised by resolutions

Although I wasn't planning on it, I actually have made new year resolutions–three of them. So in addition to remembering to write 2014 on any documents I need to date and choosing to not sweat the small stuff, I have three resolutions which sort of quietly grew on me and which I'm truly excited about. I think 2014 is going to be a great year.

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