Plenty of people are writing the story of 2011 — what happened, who died, what started, what ended — the story in events, pictures and people. Plenty of other people are offering all the usual advice about appropriate resolutions for the new year, while simultaneously explaining to us the likelihood most (if not all) of our resolutions will come to naught — good intentions dashed to pieces on the rocky shores of day to day living. Sure, the “last day of the year” and the “first day of the year” are arbitrary. A “new year” begins tomorrow only because of the tacit agreement throughout most of the world to observe it as so.
I think I’ve learned a few lessons this year, though, and as I think back over the previous 365 days, it seemed “meet and right” (and maybe even my “bounden duty”) to reflect on what 2011 has taught me. Here goes:
I learned that I’m happiest when working on a “big goal”. The Tour de DioMil (http://www.tourdediomil.weebly.com) was my sabbatical project and represented the biggest physical challenge of any sort I had ever undertaken. The goal of raising a bunch of money for three charities, meeting my fellow Episcopalians throughout southern Wisconsin and seeing the countryside in the process was an idea that “came to me” — and unlike so many previous big ideas — I actually followed through on this one! In the end, I had the privilege of riding 538 miles in nine days (with two rest days), and together with other participants in the Tour and the steadfast support of Trinity Church in Wauwatosa, WI, we raised a bit over $20,000 in the process. The memories of those two weeks will remain with me as long as I have a memory.
I learned that I don’t have to do all the work — that others will help if asked. For all the joy that the Tour represented for me, it would have never happened were it not for the consistent and dedicated work of LOTS of people! Details aren’t generally my passion, but I was delighted to discover that other folks were willing to help me realize my dream…and that there were plenty of people who were energized by the goal.
I learned that I love to meet new people and experience new places. My trip to Ireland was my first ever trip outside of the United States. I learned so much about hospitality while I was there, as a guest in a little village of 300. I really learned the value of neighborliness, of slowing down, and of relishing a meal with friends. I can hardly wait for my next trip and I look forward to going with my family next time! This is a great, big world. It’s so easy to let our world get smaller and smaller. And at the risk of sounding trite, I want my mind to expand through the last (hopefully) half of my life, not constrict with the opinions and attitudes that result from cultural myopia.
I learned that I do better work when I take care of myself. OK, there has been so much written about this in the wellness field, it should be a given, but the tendency toward cranking out lots of hours in hopes of somehow proving something to others is an addictive-like behavior that is glorified in our culture and deeply embedded in my family of origin. I’m doing better since my return from sabbatical in October, but there’s still some opportunity for improvement.
I learned that I can say “No” and the world won’t end. Upon my return from sabbatical, I stopped doing some things that I had been doing — things that were time/energy consuming, but gave me very little satisfaction in return. When I jettisoned those things from my schedule, I discovered the joy that came from being just a bit less harried and rushed.
I learned that time invested in one’s primary relationships is indispensable for the growth of those relationships. There is no “quality” time without “quantity” time. Sometimes the most important thing one can do is to do nothing at all with the people with whom we share our lives. As a priest, I often pray with folks during their last days and hours in this life — and the cliche is true — no one ever says, “You know, Gary, I wish I had spend more time at work.” This year, I began to learn that lesson for myself too.
Finally, I learned that I’d rather be known as a person of prayer than an “effective rector”. Now, I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive, but during my sabbatical, I came to understand it’s easier to do “rector-stuff” than it is to sit still and pray. Of course, once I identified my desire to be a better “pray-er” I began to confront my struggles with the enterprise. So, I haven’t arrived as a person of prayer, but I think I’m a bit further down the path.
As I look back over the year — with its ups and downs; things done and left undone; successes and failures — I’m delighted to report I’m facing into the waning hours of 2011 with a feeling of settledness that hasn’t often been a part of my internal emotional wiring. In a break from years past, I haven’t crafted a long list of resolutions to carry with me into tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to endeavor to take my 2011 lessons into 2012. I resolve to build on those lessons and see where the Spirit leads. That should be enough.