The New Year is here. I think it’s safe to say that most of us aren't too sad about waving goodbye to 2020, the longest, brokest, and loneliest year of our lives. Finally, we get a chance for a reset, a fresh start and one more shot at actually sticking to the resolutions we make every January.
Finally, we’ll get a chance for a reset, a fresh start
With the exception of my prophetic promise to wear a mask every day and my renewed commitment to eliminate hugs from my life (and apparently the lives of everyone else on the planet), most of my 2020 New Year’s resolutions faded away pretty quickly. I go back and forth on the value of the attempts I make every January, whether it’s a worthwhile effort or simply an overrated, arbitrarily scheduled reset that I would’ve already committed to if it were truly that important to me.
In the Book of Exodus we read the story of God delivering His chosen people from bondage in Egypt, proving His power through the 10 plagues that ravage Egypt. After each plague, Pharaoh is offered relief from the damage if he’d just let the Hebrews go. After the second plague when frogs have overrun the country, it looks like Pharaoh is about tap out and release the Hebrews. All he has to do is ask Moses to pray to God, and then his problems will be taken care of. The frogs are ruining everything, Pharaoh comes to his senses, and Moses says, “when should I ask God to take this (the frogs) away?”
Naturally, Pharaoh says…”tomorrow.” Are you kidding me? You have this plague, this thing ruining your economy, and you’d rather enjoy another day full of frog damage rather than get rid of the problem immediately? Of course he changes his mind before the next day comes, and then it takes several more plagues and the death of Pharaoh’s own son before he finally lets Moses and company go.
I read this story and at first glimpse, Pharaoh seems dumb (evil too, but hear me out). He had an opportunity to immediately eliminate a huge problem that was affecting his work, his life, even his country, and yet he decided to delay the solution. It probably had something to do with the economic impact of losing a free labor force (slaves), but I also think his delay had something to do with laziness and pride.
Too often I’d rather wait till a later date like tomorrow, December 31st, or ‘next year’ (aka never), to address sins, conflicts, and issues
While I’ve never ruled an empire, oppressed an entire group of people, or worshiped cats, I can’t help but see myself in Pharaoh’s response to the frog problem. Too often I’d rather wait till a later date like tomorrow, December 31st, or ‘next year’ (aka never), to address sins, conflicts, and issues that I know should be dealt with today. A few years ago, a friend recommended a great book on the Ignatian Examen prayer. Saint Ignatius of Loyola insisted that his followers in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) should examine their lives daily, reviewing both the highlights and the low points they had experienced.
This prayer has been a game changer for me. I spend about 10 minutes at the end of each day, looking back to see where the Lord was generous and to ask how generously or selfishly I’ve responded to each person and experience I’ve encountered. Rather than waiting till December 31st to identify an area for improvement in my life, I’m able to recognize specific and tangible virtues to focus on or vices/sins that need to be addressed. For me, the most impactful part of the prayer has been the daily opportunity to recall the many ways that the Lord blessed me. No matter how profound or superficial the source of my gratitude (whether it’s a good experience in prayer or extra fries at the bottom of my Wendy’s bag), I’m continually amazed when I look back through each day to see how many times I experience God’s goodness and provision.
Here are the steps to the Examen Prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola:
- Recognize God’s presence- begin with either a formal (like the Our Father) or spontaneous prayer asking the Lord to open your eyes, helping you to see His movements and invitations in your life.
- Recall His blessings- look back over the day, recognizing the many blessings and graces He gave you. Whether super spiritual or superficial, all of it counts. Thank Him for everything.
- Review your response- invite the Holy Spirit to help you see the key areas or moments where you either succeeded or failed in loving God or others. The goal of this process isn’t to come up with a laundry list of our sins, instead the aim is to ask God to show you points in your day where He’s inviting you to greater generosity and deeper conversion.
- Repent and seek reconciliation- after reviewing your day, take a moment to ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for the sins you committed. Either praying the Act of Contrition or with your own words, ask for His mercy and His grace to avoid those sins going forward.
- Resolve to be more generous- think about what you have coming up in the next 24 hours, knowing that your next day will likely also include opportunities and obstacles that you aren’t planning for. Give it all to Him, surrender your plans in openness to His more perfect plans, and ask for His help to love and serve Him and others tomorrow. Close with a simple prayer, entrusting your night and your future to His loving providence.
For Saint Ignatius of Loyola, generosity is a great standard by which we can assess our growth in the spiritual life. Rather than spending 10 minutes engaged in daily self-accusation as I consider the many ways that I’ve sinned and fallen short, my time for repentance usually focuses on one or two moments or experiences in my day where I clearly failed to respond generously to the situation in front of me. Looking ahead to the next day, my prayer is focused on asking for God’s help to become more selfless in that particular area with which I am struggling.
My prayer is focused on asking for God’s help to become more selfless in that particular area with which I am struggling
Yes, I recognize the apparent irony of pointing out Pharaoh’s procrastination and contrasting that with a nightly promise to amend one’s life the following day. But I think there’s a world of difference between ‘tomorrow’ and tomorrow, the difference between an abstract future date I’ll keep delaying and the day that literally follows today. Just like there’s a difference between the 25 ways I should improve my life next year (according to Buzzfeed) and 2 things I can do differently tomorrow when I get home from work to better love my wife and kids (put down my phone and not pick up my phone).
Each day we’re offered a chance to start anew, to pursue holiness and strive for generosity. Don’t wait till next year, or even ‘tomorrow’.
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to labor and not to seek to rest, to give of myself and not ask for a reward, except the reward of knowing that I am doing your will.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (Prayer for Generosity)