A Liberating Choice

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It is New Year’s Eve, so I figured that a post about resolutions would be appropriate. And besides, if you haven’t already picked up on it, I like goals. I think that they are a wonderful way to accomplish the things you want in life. They can keep you from spending time needlessly doing things that you really don’t plan on doing. I mean honestly, did I really want to spend an entire hour on Facebook when I had just gotten on the internet to check my e-mail?

Although, on the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want to make so many goals that it becomes all I focus on.

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I don’t want to be like this kid…

We have to be careful about how we use goals. It’s a warning sign if you’re making goals because you think you are not enough – not popular enough, not successful enough. That is not the point of them. The point is liberation. Practical life goals, like starting to invest or signing up for that photography class you’ve always wanted are meant to be freeing. The purpose of our goals should be to give us more freedom, not to weigh us down. Having a schedule that you stick to rigidly leaves no room for an unexpected conversation with a friend, helping out a stranger, or a well-deserved bubble bath. Goals are good, but if we forget our primary vocation: to love – love God and love others – they mean nothing.

Don’t get too excited. I’m not saying that we should just throw schedules out the windows.

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Scheduling and making goals in the right way will give you freedom to love others and also allow you to relax and be refreshed. We don’t need to “plan” the spontaneous fun out of life. But for myself, I need a set time to go work out or spend time in Adoration or else I won’t do it. We are able to acquire virtues like generosity or temperance by making them a habit. You could also consciously strive to acquire humility as well, but if you’re like me, tripping over your own feet suffices quite well and quite often…

As I had mentioned in my previous post about the connection of being a person of action and happiness, I happened to find a great quote from Benjamin Disraeli:

“Action may not always bring happiness;

but there is no happiness without action.”

So, if you are excited about the new year and are writing out the goals you want to accomplish, I have heard and read a lot of advice about making goals, and here are a few ideas that I have found the most helpful. 1.) Prayer is an important step to discerning what goals are worth working towards. 2.) The purpose of goals are not to one-up other people or compete with your personal view of their success. 3.) Look for making resolutions that don’t lose importance to you with the absence of other people. 4.) Do a regular review of your goal progress. I’ve found that it is equally as important as making a plan for your resolution. I have a tendency to work towards my goal but not review them and then realize that 3 months went by without any significant progress.

Today, New Year’s Eve, is a day to prepare for new beginnings. With that comes memories of the year before, the new friends we’ve met, the embarrassing stories we add to the list of never mentioning again, and the excitement of a new semester (minus the pain of paying for new books…)

Have a fun New Year’s Eve!

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Maybe I’ll make a New Year’s resolution to become more crafty! Here is my first step: Making centerpieces for a New Year’s Eve engagement party my sisters and I are hosting for a good friend. Wine bottles, to be filled with sprigs of glittery crafty-ness, accompanied by wine glass candle holders. Surprisingly easy!

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Become a Person of Action

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I’m going to admit it. I’m lazy. I love planning and organizing, but sometimes when it comes down to executing my grandiose plans I lose steam and suddenly the plans that I spent hours considering and documenting don’t seem that important to carry out. This is especially apparent around New Years, when we have the chance to start fresh and make all these great resolutions. I’ll start out with (at the time I think) a modest 11 or 12 goals which will slowly dwindle to 2 or 3 as the week progresses and I decide that I don’t want to give up pop and actually spend less time on Pinterest.

I don’t know why sometimes there is this disconnect between my plans and their fulfillment – maybe it’s a bit of a humility check for me to realize that I can’t do everything on my own. It’s something that I always forget that when I want to improve on some area of my life. But this is not to say that we shouldn’t make goals and resolutions. I happen to love them, but it is just a little harder for me to carry them all the way through. So that will be one of my goals this coming year, to become a woman of action. As Henry Bergson wrote,

Think like a man of action,

Act like a man of thought

I feel like this is applicable in relation to my previous post about “Forgetting Our Own Happiness.” Instead of focusing on whether we are happy or not in the present moment, and getting stuck, like I often do, pondering my lack of momentary contentedness, we should simply act. Do something that you love. Make grand plans for something you are passionate about, and then take the first step to doing them! The world needs passionate people. The Catholic Church needs passionate members. Maybe it won’t work out like you expect it to, but embrace the obstacles and challenges along the way instead of being discouraged.

On an adventure, we don’t think about our need for little pleasures, like the perfect amount of hazelnut creamer in our coffee or wearing our comfiest pair of socks. I just went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and I feel like I relate to Bilbo Baggins in a few ways. And no, it’s not that I have hairy feet. It’s his hesitancy at starting out on an adventure. Even as much as I think to myself that I want to have “adventures,” when it gets down to it, am I willing to sacrifice daily comforts and the security of my present life to do something or go somewhere that is completely new?

"The world is not in your maps and books. It's out there." ~Gandalf

“The world is not in your maps and books. It’s out there.” ~Gandalf

 

I think everyone wants to have an adventure. No one wants a life where nothing changes and you never go out and do something, anything. That kind of stagnant lifestyle would be stifling, and there would be no personal growth. Living out your own adventure requires the sacrifice of some personal pleasures. But we are willing to sacrifice that because we crave adventure.

Hard work goes into action and even though it might not be pleasant now, in this moment, it is worth it. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” We are humans which means we are far from perfect. The efforts that we make will be clumsy and flawed. If we wait until we are sure we can accomplish a certain task or job perfectly, we will never act. We will be someone with “good ideas” but if it is not turned into actions, it doesn’t really count. I can think about how to give food, shelter, and help to the poverty-stricken people who live in my town, but if I never actually do any of it, what would my “noble idea” be worth? Nothing.

Gandalf, always full of wisdom, said in The Hobbit,

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check,

but that is not what I have found.

I found it is the small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.

Small acts of kindness and love.

“Keeping the darkness at bay” does not only refer to the evil that goes on in the world – it also means our own darkness. Our own discontentedness. Our own unhappiness. With kind deeds, done in a spirit of love, or even on difficult days, done in a spirit of obedience, we can become people of action. We can be people that carry out our goals for personal improvement in all areas: health, career, relationships, fitness, family. All it requires is trust, humility, and a knowledge that we really can’t do it all on our own. What we contribute is our actions. Take the first step and act on the plan you have made. Launch yourself into an adventure instead of sitting on the sidelines thinking how great it would be to do x, y, or z. God can point you in the direction that He wants you to go, but you and I must do the physical actions of walking down that path.

That is my New Year’s resolution. To become a woman of action. To not stop at making plans but to also act on the desires and passions that God has placed in my heart. It’s time to start my own adventure. Momentary happiness is welcomed, but not required.

 

Happy 5th day of Christmas! This is currently one of my favorite Christmas songs, and to make a small contribution to your own momentary happiness, I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy.

Forgetting Our Own Happiness

 
draft_lens1607020module151892847photo_1311865221happiness-quotesThere are many things that make me happy, and a sunflower field is close to the top of my list. There is such cheerful serenity contained in those flower that I can’t help but appreciate the incredible touches God has placed on the world for us to enjoy. If I asked you what makes you happy, I’m confident that you could come up with a nice list of very nice things. If I asked you if you were truly happy, what would you say?

Happiness is something that everyone strives for and it is unique because we don’t seek it for the purpose of anything else. It is considered an end in itself. This isn’t just me making that up, I have like Aristotle on my side. It’s something that everyone wants and yet no one can say exactly how to achieve it. This is because there is no one-size-fits-all manual on “how to be happy” (Although I would love one!) I firmly believe that God created us in order for us to experience His love and be eternally happy. This is where many people get angry or frustrated with God, because there are many times that we are not happy and we feel like God is not fulfilling His promise. I don’t know about you, but I would love to be happy and content every day, all the time. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. In the movie Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell wisely said,

Life-is-Full-of-Disappointments-Wallpaper-dan-in-real-life-13677302-1366-768

You would not believe how applicable this is to so many situations.

There are going to be days, months, and maybe even years where we might feel like life is against us and our happiness is just out of our reach. Maybe we doubt that God remembers that He made us to be happy. For myself, in those times, one of the most annoying and unhelpful pieces of advice I can get is,

Believe it or not, but a cutesy font probably won't change my day around.

Believe it or not, but reading this quote in a cutesy font probably won’t change my day around.

On days when I would not classify myself as “happy,” the fact that someone thinks I could be happy, but I just haven’t decided to be, seems a bit ridiculous to me. It also gives me a feeling of discouragement and failure to think thank maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough to be happy.

It’s true, when God promised us happiness, He did not promise unending earthly happiness. He did not promise success in our careers and a continual feeling of contentment. It’s easy to forget the big picture of our lives. If we are truly striving for sainthood, our success in the business world, our level of popularity, and our momentary feelings of happiness becomes secondary and immaterial. However, especially for me, this truth is way easier said than done. In the book In Conversation with God, the author writes,

“We must not forget that our greatest happiness

and our most authentic good

are not always those which we dream of and long for”

Maybe we think we know what we would need to be happy, but that is in a way saying that we know better than God. But the truth is that He knows us better than we know ourselves. God wants us to be happy, not only in eternal life, but in this earthly life as well. It might come in a different forms than what the world would expect, but be on guard, because it will turn up in the most unlikely places. There is a danger to spending a lot of time focusing on our own happiness and how to attain it and hold onto it. We have a difficult time looking outside ourselves to other see people. There are a few saints that I have read of that would wake up in the morning and the first word they would say was, “Serviam” which is Latin for “I will serve.” I think that is a beautiful way to start the day.

A problem that I struggle with is having exceedingly high expectations of myself and of different situations. If I take a step back and start each morning with the mentality of serving, even though it will be imperfectly, the people I encounter in my day, it changes the way I act, think, and react to situations that might normally make me “unhappy.” The “little disappointments” that life is full of take one a lesser meaning no longer acting as stumbling blocks but rather opportunities of offering little sacrifices to God.

Something else that has helped me when happiness is a struggle in that day, month, or even year, is to foster a spirit of gratitude. It helps to focus on the blessings we have instead of the list of things we really, really desire. I remember seeing a quote that said, “What if we woke up with the only things that we had thanked God for the day before?” How much of our prayer time is focused on asking for things instead of thanking Him for always providing for us, in little things as well as big things? Because for me at least, it’s the little things that bring me moments of pure joy, like sitting in my living room in the evening with all the lights off except the Christmas tree lights, or reconnecting with old friends, or taking the time to make an elegant breakfast…

I am of the opinion that candlelight and wine glasses are acceptable and preferable at breakfast to accompany a delightful crêpe breakfast.

I am of the opinion that candlelight and wine glasses are acceptable and preferable at breakfast to accompany a delightful crêpe feast.

No, maybe, in the moment, we can’t “choose” to be happy. And that is okay. But instead of focusing on our unhappiness, we should simply acknowledge what we are feeling and continue on with our lives instead of becoming mired in our misery. As we Catholics are aware of, our holiness does not depend on our feelings, and the same thing can go for our happiness. Happiness is not a prolonged feeling of contentment when everything is going right. I believe it has more to do with the adventure that we find ourselves on, but that is a post for tomorrow.

 

 

The Art of Processing

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If I pass an infomercial when I am flipping through channels on the television, I have to stop. I feel like this might be an innate desire in every human, at least the ones that I’ve talked to. They fascinate me, and I don’t know why! I would never buy one, but I could watch the same Magic Bullet infomercial every week and never get bored. The commercials selling food processors have the most gravitational pull for me. 

It got me thinking about mental processing. I only took one psychology class in college, but it was so interesting to learn about how our minds worked. There are two types of mental processing for us. One is internal processing, where all of one’s thoughts and the ability to work through different situations and circumstances take place in the person’s mind. They have no need to verbalize their thoughts in order for them to make sense of them. The other type is external processing, where one needs to verbalize or even put in written form their thoughts. These people need to talk to a friend or journal to make sense of the situations the find themselves in.

I have always been of the opinion that I am an internal processor. I’m not too talkative, unless you happen to catch me after I’ve had any amount, be it small or exorbitant, of caffeine. I would consider myself an introvert – I like my alone time and I do not have the astounding ability to thrive off jumping from party to party, socializing until the early hours of the morning like many extroverts have. But recently, I had a nice, long conversation at Caribou, the only suitable place to indulge in nice, long conversations, with a lovely sister of mine, and I came to an astounding revelation. I was talking to her about being in a bad mood the day before, and I could not honestly tell her why I had been frustrated. This continued into talking about life decisions, and I ended up saying a lot of “I don’t know”s and lacked any logical reasons for my seeming “problems.” I realized in that conversation that I had not truly thought about any of my reasons for the things that I was struggling with until I talked to her. I had been mired in my own mind, not thinking things through completely and continuing to be frustrated for no good reason. 

I have come to the conclusion that I am an external processor, and looking at different definitions for it I found one that explained that external thinking is the,

Outward and active focus on applying logical order

to the objective world through building structure,

organization and making decisions.”

This resonated with me, because if you know me at all, you will know that I love organization and making lists. I made the mistake of thinking that because I happened to be shy and introverted, that I had the magical ability to solve all my problems on my own by working them out in my mind. Good thing that God decided he had had enough of my pride for the day. He really likes to do this, I’ve come to find out. I believe that everyone should figure out what type of mental processor they are. As one of my patron saints, St. Teresa of Avila said, “Know thyself.” It’s simple, it’s easy to remember, and it is one of the most important steps we can take on our journey to sainthood. You and I can not grow if we don’t take the time to know and understand ourselves, how we work, how we think, and don’t even get me started on your love languages or languages of apologies. Those deserve a separate post just for themselves. 

And now here I am; this blog is my small step in externalizing my mental processing in order to grow. I have found that there are so many “problems” that I think I have or am dealing with, and all it takes is to put them down on paper or tell someone for them to vanish into the cold, brisk wind of my current Minnesota surroundings. I encourage you to figure out the type of mental processing you work best with. I have a hunch that many women are external processors because of our tendency and love for chatting. The problems that prevent us from externally processing things come from our pride. I know I sure don’t want to admit to people that I have problems! It doesn’t mean we should tell everyone we encounter, or all our friends, all of our problems, all the time. But maybe just one friend, or a lovely sister, that you can have those nice, long conversations with, to make sure that things aren’t getting blown out of proportion in your mind. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds! That is why I now consider the ability to process an art. 

I subscribe to the Simple Dollar blog, and I read this article this morning. I highly recommend reading it; it focuses on the things that you “want” and encourages you to examine your reasons for wanting it.

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2012/12/27/think-about-why-you-want-something-361365/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thesimpledollar+%28The+Simple+Dollar%29