Last year was a really crap year.
I can’t say that it was the worst year of my life, but it was very, very ordinary. Kind of what I imagine a marathon to be like except with fewer people holding out cups of water along the way and clapping for you when you finish.
I didn’t feel that I was carrying out my roles with any degree of skill, grace or accomplishment. The competing responsibilities of mother, teacher and housewife were constantly banging up against each other, without enough hours in the day to do any of them properly. As for daughter, granddaughter, volunteer, friend and person with any hobbies, they totally fell by the way side.
I took a month off work at one stage, trying to get some balance, and things became lovely. I did all the extra parenting that I’d been neglecting; helping at school, baking bread, leaving little flowers on the pillows of freshly made beds and making sit-down dinners with discussion topics.
But after the month was up, it was back to work and more mismanaged jerry-built, cobbled together semi-coping.
When you look at advice about balancing competing responsibilities, you will get suggestions such as delegating, outsourcing or letting things go if they don’t matter.
None of that was going to work for me. I couldn’t see any ‘extras’ that needed pruning. The things that needed doing this year were going to be the same as the things that needed doing last year. Same places, same people, same number of hours in the day.
But something needed to change, obviously.
So knowing that I didn’t want another year where I was just getting by, and knowing that there was nothing that I could abandon or pass on to someone else, I wondered if there was something that I could add that might help me calibrate everything just enough to get some joy and contentment back in my life.
I’ve mentioned before that prayer has never really been an intuitive thing for me (unless saying ‘Oh for GOD’S SAKE!! counts. If so, then I’ve been nailing it for years). In the past, after stressing, yelling, over-thinking, crying and staring off into space, I may go, ‘Oh well I guess I could have a pray then’. A kind of fall back contingency plan for the times when everything else has failed. A last ditch effort to salvage something when, to be honest, the horses have usually bolted.
But I knew that I needed to have some structure and plan to my prayer otherwise I’d ramble on for five minutes, start a to-do list in my head and give it up after 3 days as a failed project.
But what about if my to-do list became part of my prayer?
Enter the Morning Examen. A way that I can talk to God, plan my day, reflect on how best to go about things and envisage ways to deal with issues that may come up along the way.
I don’t follow the model in the link exactly but my guess is that you’re not supposed to. I’ve been getting up a little earlier for the past few weeks (5 am instead of 5.20 am) and I think that I’ve tweaked it perfectly for now.
This tends to essentially be along the same lines all the time- thanking God for pursuing me so relentlessly and faithfully over the last few years despite some pretty obstinate and bad tempered opposition on my part. I think I’ll always be thankful for this.
How am I feeling about the day ahead? Do I have some worries or nervousness that I need to let go? If I go into the day with baggage then it’s hard to really approach it with joy and anticipation. I’ll sit with these feelings until they disperse, realising their transient nature.
Here’s where I walk through what I’ll be doing today. What situations will be meeting me that I’ve dealt with less than ideally in the past? Where will I need to show extra grace or receive it myself? Where will I be challenged today or where can I help meet someone else’s needs?
What one sentence do I want to say to God now as I embrace the new day? What do I want, feel and anticipate?
So, that’s it and so far, so good. The year is still young but there seems to be less fixed-grin white knuckled winging it than previously so I’m chalking it up as a success at this stage.
Speaking of prayer, I’m also praying the Lord’s Prayer till Easter. It’s put together by some amazing Bible teachers so I’d encourage you to have a look.