I feel as helpless as the alcoholic who, after two frothy weeks in Ireland, returned home with a firm resolution: “From now on, I will drink only in Ireland.”
Still and all, despite this laughable lack of will power, the new year already has showered me and Katie with surprises, a net full of small miracles so personal they do not belong on this blog. The contrast is striking to me—between the resolutions I make for myself, girding myself for a test of will, and the gifts that are being showered on me all the time, even when I am sleeping. But then you know what the psalmist says:
Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.
It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil—all this God gives to his beloved in sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)
My friend Bob once said that he gets up from sleep every morning, sits on the edge of his bed, and asks Jesus how He is going to surprise him that day. I think this is a far more reasonable way to face the new year than with resolutions: to await surprises on every plane of my life.
I do not have that many planes. The four words in the right sidebar of this blog pretty much sum it up: Catholic, husband, dad, writer. I have never been much of a club man. And my list of accomplishments is mostly books by or about other people. So it is with a simple set of questions that I can face the new year, echoing my friend Bob.
As a Catholic, I can ask: Lord, help me each day to understand how I can better serve You and your Church. I will be taking a pilgrimage in the spring, walking 500 miles with my daughter from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Campostella. Let me make this walk, and every shorter walk this year, in the spirit of asking, begging for your guidance. Surprise me, Lord, by your call.
As a husband, I can ask: Lord, help me commit more deeply to the only vow I have ever taken and am ever likely to take. Our children have graduated from college and are moving ahead bravely with their lives. Our trade publishing business, which Katie and I ran together for a dozen years, is now receding in the rear-view mirror. As we grow older together, surprise us with a renewed understanding of our marriage. Surprise us, Lord, with your love.
As a father, I can ask: Lord, now that my children are grown and flown, I cannot drive them to school any longer, or cheer them on in field hockey, or read them to sleep at night. Help me to understand how to be the father they need now and for as long as we are together. Surprise me, Lord, with new challenges.
As a writer, I can ask: Lord, you know that I love writing about my experience as a Catholic, and you also know that I have to write to put food on the table and keep the house heated. Help me, Lord, to see how to navigate from writing for hire to writing for higher. Surprise me, Lord, with new opportunities.
I used to think that it was wrong to pray for myself and my own intentions. But this is my prayer today: Help me, Lord, to be a better Catholic, husband, dad, and writer—without resolutions, without preconceptions, open always to the signs of your Presence.