How many times have we made a New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds? It doesn’t sound hard. Ten pounds. That’s only one pound a month with two months off for Thanksgiving and Christmas. One freaking pound every thirty days. How hard can that be? Sheesh.
Colossal failure. Every year.
A few years ago I made a New Year’s Eve resolution that worked. I decided I should laugh more. For the rest of the year that tiny thought sat in the back of my mind. Anytime I had a chance for the slightest reason to laugh, I took it. I deliberately laughed louder and longer. And, you know what? It worked. Laughing made for a totally wonderful, filled-with-happiness year. That one was a huge success. And I think it changed my life.
So I started thinking these New Years Eve resolutions might have merit. For 2012 I decided I needed to talk less and listen more. It sounded pretty simple—kind of like that ten pounds.
Another Colossal failure. I might as well have tried to lose thirty pounds. It was a peculiar agony that I could endure maybe five minutes at the most in any conversation where I had words of wisdom, unwanted or not. Did anyone really expect me to be able to keep my mouth shut? About the only thing the exercise did was to remind me every single day of 2012 what a narcissist I am. I guess there is merit in that.
And now it’s time to think what new habit I want to pick up for 2013. It needs to be something helpful and of lasting impact, yet something that might actually be possible.
We had a guest preacher Sunday. Linda McCormick has been one of my best friends for a long time now. Our kids are the same age. I gave the benediction at Mike’s Eagle Scout ceremony and she co-offciated at Emily’s wedding. I was one of her biggest cheerleaders when she started seminary late in life. I even delivered the charge to the pastor at her ordination. One of the things I charged her with was to speak from her experience when she preached. Lofty as preachers are, I find them much easier on the ears when they are able to preach to me from personal experience. And the one thing women my age have in spades is experience.
So it was especially sweet when she blew it out of the ballpark with a sermon on Luke 2:41. True to my charge, she deftly compared the story of Jesus’ parents when he got left behind at the temple with her own experiences raising two sons. Whenever I think my own children are sometimes difficult I remind myself that Mary surely had her own hands full with Jesus. Except for turning water into wine at her request we never hear much about Jesus paying a lot of attention to his mother. He tended to do things his own way.
Linda and I occasionally commiserate about how our kids sometimes follow frustratingly different paths than what their mothers had planned for them. We want our adult children to succeed and be independent but sometimes we have a hard time letting go. Even the most faithful of mothers, even the ones who are Faith Cheerleaders sometimes have trouble having faith ourselves. The future is just as scary for us as it is for everyone else. We agonize over when to step in and help our kids and when to let them figure it out on their own. It is just as hard for Linda and I to step out into the unknown as it is for everybody else.
So she was talking to herself as much as everyone else. After carefully pointing out that her sons weren’t Jesus Christ (which drew a laugh for those of us who had known them as teenagers) she told us:
“Mary and Joseph had hit the reality of living with the Incarnate Christ
and, like most parents, they didn’t understand.
Somehow I find a word of comfort in that.
It is comforting to know I don’t have to understand.
And I think that’s the point of the story.
We don’t have to understand, but we do have to trust.
We have to trust that God will be where God is supposed to be….
We have to accept that we will find God doing unexpected things in ordinary places.
And we have to keep on keeping on.”
Then Linda pointed out what Mary and Joseph did once they found their son and went home:
“What I find interesting is that after all this—
After all the panic and fear
The anger and the guilt—
The family went home to Nazareth.
We know the end of the story,
So we can’t say “they lived happily ever after.”
But for the next 18 years,
Life went on without notice.
And I suspect every year
They went to Jerusalem for the Passover.
Because that’s how we live with “God –with-us”—
By persisting in the day-in, day-out living of our lives.
And growing from ordinary experiences that are full of God’s presence.
And by growing into lives of obedient discipleship.”
And Linda isn’t the only one to make this point. A couple of months ago I read Anne Lamott’s book, Some Assembly Required. It’s about watching her son raise his own son. It’s about letting go and allowing your children to be adults. One of the most profound things in the book is actually not words from Anne herself but from a priest friend who constantly brings her back to earth when she gets wound too tight. She quotes this guy a lot because he is both wise and concise. She refers to him only by the title “my priest friend Tom” and the only clues to his personality aside from his sagacity is that he is a recovering alcoholic like Anne, occasionally profane and I can only assume is celibate since he’s a priest--except that I think he’s also gay and they may have different standards for that in the Catholic church.
Here is what Anne’s sober, salty, gay, priest friend Tom has to say. I printed it out and taped it to my bathroom mirror so I can read it more than once daily. I have it pretty much memorized by now:
“There is zero percent chance you will change them. So we breathe in, and out, talk to friends, as needed. We show up, wear clean underwear, say hello to strangers. We plant bulbs, and pick up litter, knowing there will be more in twenty minutes. We pray that we might cooperate with any flicker of light we can find in the world.”
I’m going to start small and easy. I will try to take care of my own business in 2013 and worry less about what other people are doing, especially my children. Surely a New Year’s Resolution to wear clean underwear could be easy enough to keep. I will do my small part to make the world a better place while knowing the difference might be so slight as to be imperceptible. Like Mary and Joseph, I will live each day the best I can and tend to my religious customs. I will show up and do my part. No more and no less. Some people might call this “Let go and let God.”
This ought to keep me busy.