8 Things I Learned in 2008

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting on what I learned in 2008, and considering how I can continue to grow from these lessons in the New Year. I thought I’d share my list in case anyone’s interested.

1. If my goal is to have a God-centered, peaceful life, I cannot do nearly as much as I thought I could.

This was my first lesson of 2008, and one that I’ve realized I’ll have to remind myself of over and over again as I battle my lifelong tendency to put too much on my plate. As I detailed in the posts below, it all started with looking at Mother Teresa’s religious order’s daily schedule; I was struck by its simplicity and focus, and the way it revolved around prayer and allowed ample time for rest…yet they are still able to have a huge impact on the world.

Posts on this subject:

2. Life is easier when my days revolve around prayer.

In January of 2008 I decided to do a “reckless experiment with prayer”: despite all the good, logical reasons I had not to spend too much time in prayer (namely the fact that I was unbelievably busy with a three-year-old, one-year-old and newborn, all in diapers), I decided to try an entire week of putting prayer first. For one week, observing the prayer times of the Liturgy of the Hours would be the first and most important thing on every day’s to-do list, and everything else would come second. I’d try it just to see what happened.

I half expected that my house would degenerate into chaos and my little prayer experiment would somehow end with the Health Department’s involvement, but just the opposite happened: I actually got more done despite the fact that I was spending much more time in prayer than I had been, and a peace and serenity entered my house that were not there before. I’ve kept up with this practice ever since. (Though it did suffer a bit during my recent spiritual dry spell, it’s something I plan to recommit to in 2009.)

Posts on this subject:

3. It’s harder for me to trust God with small stuff than with big stuff.

In 2007 I learned a lot about trusting God with my life, and when 2008 rolled around I felt like I was actually pretty good about turning my anxieties over to God…and then I started having computer problems. In the desk-pounding, near-computer-throwing, profanity-muttering series of hissy fits that ensued, I realized that while I might have reached a fair level of spiritual maturity about trusting God with things like our long-term finances, I had basically zero trust in the Lord when it came to little details like getting stuck in traffic or having technical problems with a website. It’s still something I’m working on, and I find it to be one of my greatest spiritual challenges.

Posts on this subject:

4. Fear is the absence of love.

When my spiritual director first counseled me that “fear is the absence of love, ” I wasn’t sure what she meant. I’d been talking about my worries about the new pregnancy, medical issues, finances, education choices for the kids, etc. — what on earth did that have to do with love? She simply suggested that I meditate on that thought and, every time I experienced fear, ask myself how I could pour love into the situation (or, if I couldn’t see a way, do some act of love unrelated to the situation). At the time I had no idea what a huge lesson this would be for me. Hardly a day has gone by that I have not thought of this lesson, and I have yet to find a problem that, after praying about it, I don’t see a clear way that I can pour love into the situation — and, sure enough, it helps every time.

Post on this subject:

5. Answered prayers are easier to see when looking at the world through a lens of love and humility.

When I first started praying, I expected my prayers to be answered in a vacuum; in other words, I expected the help or information that I needed to just fall out of the sky and into my lap. What I’ve found over and over again, however, is that God often answers prayers in a way that draws us closer to one another, and if I’m looking at the world from a self-centered, controlling, isolationist point of view, I might miss the fact that God has actually answered my prayer through the imperfect efforts of another human being.

Posts on this subject:

6. I did not lose my own life when I embraced the idea that my primary vocation is to be a wife and a mother; in fact, I found it.

Coming from a completely secular background, I found this to be one of the more counterintuitive, profound bits of wisdom in Christianity.

Posts on this subject:

7. Christianity is the fulfillment of the atheistic beliefs I was raised with.

As I’ve grown in my newfound faith I continue to be surprised that it feels oddly comfortable in many ways. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my new belief system is not a complete departure from my old one; rather, it’s the fulfillment of it.

Posts on this subject:

8. There are ways you can structure your lifestyle to make it more conducive to holiness.

I’ve written about this recently and I’m sure I’ll continue to write about it a lot in 2009. My spiritual director’s gentle admonishment to work on getting my exhaustion under control before I attempt my specifically spiritual goals (detailed in the first post below) was a real eye-opening moment that has had a far-reaching impact on the way I approach growing in holiness.

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It’s been fun to look back at all these great lessons from 2008 and think about them as a new year begins. What did you learn in 2008?

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Jennifer:

    Your post about letting others help you has been a personal problem of my own. I was always taught to be a responsible person, and I somehow translated this into, “Be entirely self-reliant.”

    I’ve since had it brought home to me how allowing others to help can be a blessing to both them and me. Many times, I offer to help others and have been rebuffed with remarks like, “No, you don’t need to do anything. I’ve got it under control.” Receiving responses of this sort often leaves me feeling useless, and I’m never able to give my help, though I gladly would. I realize that I’ve been doing this to others, whether verbally or nonverbally through my attitude. I’m striving to correct this, but it’s a difficult thing. When you get right down to it, much of it is tied to pride. I think a lack of humility in many areas of my life has kept me from growing spiritually. It’s a daily struggle, but I’m working on it!

    Jen G

  2. Jess says

    I appreciate how you’ve made prayer a priority in your day despite your busy schedule and the chaos of young children surrounding you. I need to do the same.

  3. Anonymous says

    What makes a good spiritual director? How did you find one and as yours is a woman she is obviously not a priest. Is she a religious sister?

    And! Would she be willing to hold a woman’s retreat as she sounds very level headed. I had a bad experience with one spiritual director.

  4. April says

    You know, it’s interesting — I have been raised a Christian my entire life, yet almost everything you write resonates deeply with me. The resignation of self to other/ God must be a universal struggle. Your posts on finding peace with the vocation of motherhood have been especially resonant. Thanks so much for an insightful 2008. I look forward to your observations in 09!

  5. Jen says

    Jen, I learned similar things as yourself. Being a convert also, at age 15, then leaving and coming back in my twenties, I feel the gift of prayer, and how my life, when properly centered around it, is much, much different. There is the peace Christ promised us. It’s there so profoundly, even during the diaper changes, the sibling fights, and the lonliness that comes from being home all day with lots of small kids. I took up your quest in prayer the Litgury, and by doing so, it lead me to a possible Carmelite vocation. I would not have been able to hear that call except from reading that post of yours and through prayer. This is a wonderful post. I’m glad you started it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. SuburbanCorrespondent says

    Again, #4 is from Paul (somewhere): Love casts out fear. Although I must confess, I didn’t learn it from Paul, I learned it from “Little Women.” I was amazed, when I started going to RCIA, just how many phrases from “Little Women” had biblical origins!

    #6 is much harder for me to embrace now that I am no longer having babies/nursing. Which surprises me – I thought it would be easier when I wasn’t sleep-deprived, etc. I thought I would enjoy my role as housewife/mother much more at this point. But, really? It’s sort of boring and less rewarding without the babies.

    Less stressful, though…

  7. pharmgirl says

    God doesn’t do things on your time, He does things on His time.

    After oh, nine years or so of being away from the Church, I got the weird urge to go to Mass on Palm Sunday. I brushed it off, and wound up shopping during the time I would have been at Mass.

    Ironically, I was shopping for a dress to wear at Easter. Holy Week happened to be the same week as my spring break, so planned to visit my family, and since they’re all Catholic, I would be attending Mass with them.

    And I did, expecting nothing, and lo and behold I actually felt the presence of God, which I never did when I was actually looking for it.

    And then I started attending Mass regularly again, and things got interesting at my house… but that’s a whole different story. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Kristin T. says

    Thanks so much for sharing this list, and for sharing of yourself in your blog. I’m so glad I discovered it in 2008.

    You’ve inspired me to make two lists: one of things I’ve learned in 2008 and another of the things I need to practice in 2009. I have no doubt that I need to personally focus on the first two points you bring up. They seem straightforward and ring so true; why then, in reality, are they so intimidating and scary? What am I afraid of giving up/losing?

  9. Hannah says

    I’ve learned that having an open mind about God is fascinating, if sometimes difficult, boring, or scary.

  10. Susan Thompson says

    Good question, what did I learn this year. It seems that like others, I learned about not trying to be entirely self-reliant and accepting help from others. When my husband’s health first started to deteriorate a few years ago, I took the training to be a eucharistic minister to the sick in order to bring him Holy Communion. In these last couple of months, with my husband being put in the Hospice program, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable with bringing him communion. At Mass one Sunday it suddenly hit me that someone else from the Church should bring him communion. I was trying to do everything instead of letting the larger Church family minister to him. We have a wonderful neighbor lady who is a eucharistic minister and just loves to bring him Holy Communion and pray with him, and this gives him some contact with the larger community. The priest comes every few months for Anointing of the Sick, too. So that’s something that I learned.

  11. Pam says

    I keep meaning to ask:
    how does it look, in real life, to stop and pray each day? What do you do with the kids? Do you work around sleep times, or when they are busy and just grab a moment? Or???

    I’ve been trying to do the same thing for the past year and a bit. But I still struggle with when to stop. Especially in the morning.

    Pam

  12. edie says

    I have so enjoyed ‘finding’ your blog Jennifer. You put us ‘lifelong christians’ to shame. I’m so thankful for your insight and have found a wealth of info from your archives. Have a blessed New Year!

  13. Marcus Goodyear says

    2008 felt like a spiritual dry spell too me. Or a dark night of the soul.

    Your challenge to pray through the liturgy of the hours is something I really ought to try to kick start the new year.

  14. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience says

    I’m blessed to have discovered you in 2008, Jennifer.

    It’s been a good year of learning; my thanks.

    I’ve posted my Eight Lessons Learned in 2008 … and linked to your wise words here.

    God’s blessing on your 2009, Jen…

  15. Barbara says

    I’m usually more reflexive than reflective, so thinking about this year’s lessons was a good exercise for me. I’ve linked to your lovely post. Thanks (to you and Elizabeth Foss) for the inspiration!

  16. At A Hen's Pace says

    Hi Jennifer–

    I’m coming over from Holy Experience today, but I’ve lurked here before. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s been sort of a one-lesson year for our family–a year ago we were driving 1.5 hours each Sunday to lead a church plant (Anglican), while waiting on our house to sell, wondering if we were hearing God right, etc. A year later, we have learned that God is so faithful!

    I posted about it here

    http://atahenspace.blogspot.com/2008/12/end-of-year-musings.html

  17. Molly says

    I just happened to stumble upon your site and was deeply moved by your list of 8 things learned in 2008, especially your experiment with putting prayer first.

    I plan to set aside some time this weekend to follow the links you provided to your other posts. I think I can safely say that finding your website is the best thing to happen to me so far in 2009.

    thank you for your honesty and inspiration.

  18. G says

    Years ago, my spiritual director began insisting that I begin every prayer with praise & adoration. My tendency is to go directly to petitioning! It seems like Liturgy of the Hours (ie., using the Psalms) always follows that rule but it still takes a conscious effort on my part to adhere to it. So, I guess that's one thing I've learned in '08 & will no doubt have to re-learn in '09!