It was July of this year, and I was climbing California’s mountains in my rental car, just outside the town of Groveland, on my way to help lay 2 beautiful people to rest – the third memorial service I’d attended in almost as many months.
On the twists and turns of the switchbacks, I passed a puzzling, funny road sign. Its traditional yellow diamond shape held a message completely foreign to my East Coast sensibilities.
‘Turn off A/C’
I obeyed and rolled down the windows, deciding that the natural breeze actually felt quite nice after my cross-country flight.
Later, I asked my dad about the sign, and he said most modern cars can handle the hills, but these old notices warn drivers not to stress an engine’s radiator on the steep inclines. They are meant to be helpful.
That tiny piece of memory – me, the curvy road in terrain that varies by season, the weird sign – has come to encapsulate much of how I feel about my year.
It’s been a strange one, at least by my silly standards, as if I could ever plan or anticipate what might happen next.
Lots and lots of ups and downs. Joys and sorrows. Achievements and successes and births, and struggles and woundings and saying goodbye to people so dear to me that I choke when I picture their faces in my mind.
Amidst all of it….blessings….right?
Well, they say there’s always a blessing to be found when we look closely enough, but certain situations make us all wonder.
Sometimes blessings are very difficult to see. Or slow to emerge.
And that’s hard.
On balance, my year has been a good one, but I’ve seen people I care about suffer immensely.
I’ve seen people pass through pain so scarring and deep I know they’d much rather avoid, rationalize, or escape it – do anything other than live with it in real time.
And we’re all moving through territory we’ve never encountered before.
How about you? How has your year been? Too much? Just too darn much for a neat, quick summation?
I’ve done some thinking on this in 2019. In July, I wrote Doing OK? Reflect, and You May Find Out.
But thinking only gets a person so far, so more recently, I’ve been spending some time learning about Ignatian spirituality and doing ‘The Daily Examen,’ a process developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola and used for centuries by the ministry he founded, the Jesuits, and anyone else interested in finding God in the midst of a day or other length of time. It has helped me see blessings when they are not readily apparent.
If we accept it as Truth that God is always with us, it’s not difficult to enter into His presence. We can find Him everywhere. God is closer than breath.
So for Day 1 of this brief series, here are 6 simple steps based on the Examen to help all of us see God in the last 24 hours. Try this over the next week, and consider broadening the exercise to a larger period of time, asking God to help you decipher your life’s events in 2019.
- Close your eyes. Imagine God smiling down on you, and you looking up at God.
- Ask yourself, “What am I thankful for?” Don’t leap ahead, just give thanks for whatever springs up.
- Before reviewing the past, ask for the grace to see yourself as God sees you.
- Walk through your day (or week, month, year) one moment at a time. Where did you feel joy? What troubled you? Challenged you? Where and when did you pause? Did you see or feel the presence of God at any particular point? Stay with that for a bit.
- What is your response? How is your spirit?
- Looking ahead, what comes to mind? With what spirit do you want to move forward?
Suffering and happiness are persistent lows and highs. They just vary in their intensity.
But when we ask for guidance to see our ups and downs in the light of God’s ever-present and eternal love for us, we can be nourished and calmed on the journey. We can find deeper joy regardless of our circumstances.
And we learn we are not riding solo. We are never left to handle life’s switchbacks and strange signs alone.