Simple faith-filled strategies for taking stock, being grateful, and keeping the times of our lives in perspective

By Larry Urish     12/21/2015

Time sure flies. It seems as if only a few weeks ago we were putting away our beach umbrellas and breaking out the Halloween decorations. Now, just like that, it’s Christmastime. The colorful Yuletide decorations are up and in a few days, we’ll celebrate the holiday with friends and family. These are joyous, hectic, loving, occasionally maddening days, and it’s easy to get caught up in the seasonal buzz. Then, suddenly, the New Year is upon us.

Okay, now what?

It’s not too late to take some much-needed time to reflect on the past year while looking ahead toward the new one. Here’s what you can do: Just stop. Shut off the smartphone and TV. Power down the laptop and iPad. Set your mail aside. Take a minute or two and breathe. Now you’ve created a quiet space in your soul to reflect on the past 12 months and point toward the future.

Looking back

“One of the central dispositions for a Catholic, or any Christian, to have is to live each day, and reflect on the past, from a place of gratitude,” says Father Christopher Smith, Rector and Episcopal Vicar of Christ Cathedral.

From this grateful mindset, he says, make three lists: a list of blessings, a list of challenges and a list of complaints.

“In the spirit of gratitude, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see what might be eliminated from the list of complaints, and to ask for the Lord’s grace going into the new year when it comes to the challenges from the past year,” Father Christopher says. “Maybe the Lord can turn a challenge into a blessing.”

As for any feelings of guilt that may arise when reflecting on the past, Father Christopher notes that perhaps there needs to be a clarification about what the guilt is about. “Lots of people say they feel guilty when they may really feel angry, disappointed or regretful,” he says. “Guilt is only applicable whenever you really do something wrong. It’s helpful to distinguish between the best that you did and something you did that was really wrong.

“The Lord wants us to be the best we could be. What counts is that we did our best.”

Looking forward

Father Christopher has a simple, time-tested litmus test: “In the coming year, if you’re thinking about what’s ahead, ask yourself, ‘What would the Lord have me do?’”

To find out what that is, just ask. “Saint Paul says that we are to have about us the mind of Christ. But we can’t have the mind of Christ if we never ask him what it is.”

If you like to set goals, consider the following questions: Will this goal draw me toward Christ or away from him? Will it enhance my vocation in life? Does this goal have eternal impact on my life and those around me? Have I prayed about it and asked God to lead me in my decisions? Will this goal take time and resources away from those around me who really depend on me? Am I prepared to accompany my goal with prayer? Does this goal glorify the Lord or is it rooted in vanity?

Some of these are tough questions, and they may lead to even tougher answers. Be willing to ask them in a quiet, meditative space. The answers may surprise you.

The present moment

After all is said and done, all we really have is the present. The past is done, and the future is mostly out of our hands.

Father Gerald Horan, OSM, Episcopal Vicar for Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange, views it another way. He takes a look at time itself.

“Reflecting on the past and planning for the future is important in our time, but doing so…is irrelevant in God’s time. God’s time has nothing to do with minutes and seconds, rules or deadlines, and everything to do with timeless love and acceptance.”

The Greeks, Father Jerry explains, had two words for time: “chronos” and “kairos.” Chronos is time as we usually view it, while kairos is “measured by meaning and significance. Sometimes, the Greeks referred to kairos as “the Lord’s time.”

If we’re too caught up in chronos, Father Jerry says, we can miss some great opportunities in God’s time. “God is looking for us to see time and relationships and experience in his way, not in a mechanical or structural way. God is looking for us to enter into a relationship with him, and for that there’s always time.”

So as 2015 winds down and 2016 looms ahead, Father Jerry reminds us that it’s important to keep our lives in both chronos and kairos. Yes, of course we have deadlines, goals and responsibilities.

“But in your relationship with God,” Father Jerry says, “you can always start anew.”