Better Than Before

I read a lot of books in 2016 and happened to end the year with a book perfect for the beginning of a new year, “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. I was familiar with Rubin through other books and her podcast and was particularly interested in this book after I heard her interviewed on another podcast. The power of this book is that it doesn’t prescribe “you should do this” – rather, it helps the reader consider his or her own personality and what methods might work best for each person in seeking some new goals. I liked this approach and also found the book affirming in that she mentions some tactics that I had already learned to employ for myself over the years.

She says there are four categories of people – Obligers, Upholders, Rebels, and Questioners – and once you figure out which category you fit into, this will help you see better how you successfully form habits (or don’t.) I took her quiz to figure out which category I am and I don’t fit neatly into any. I hear she is working on another book about these four categories and I look forward to seeing it as she writes about this more in-depth.

One of the helpful habits she discusses is that of scheduling – that it can be helpful to schedule the habit into your day, but also to schedule a break. For example, if I know I am going to be at a party and won’t be able to stick to my habit of eating clean for that meal, to schedule parameters within which I will work for the party and then go immediately back to my regular habit after that. I tried that this week with a gathering I needed to attend. I knew that for that luncheon, pizza was on the menu. I decided before I left for the luncheon that I would have two slices of pizza, no alcohol, and then go back to life as usual right afterward. Scheduling this brief “break” helped me not feel deprived but also feel still very in control.

Rubin’s book is easy to read and great food for thought. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to understand themselves a little bit better and wanting to figure out habits that will help them increase their joy in everyday life.

What do your tendencies say about you? Click on the book to learn more about Gretchen Rubin’s brilliant, “The Four Tendencies.” 

Looking for Answers to Big Questions? Explore the “Prayer of Examen”

Should I go down this path or that one? Should I take the new job or keep my old one? What does God want me to do? What does God want me to change? How do I know where God is leading me? These are common questions that deal with the topic of discernment. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Prayer of Examen helps us become more aware of where God is in our lives. When we practice the Examen we begin to be attentive to times of consolation (what gives us life, joy, peace, love) and to times of desolation (what brings us anxiety, worry, fear, anger). When we notice desolation in our lives we begin to have a sense of what God is leading us away from. When we notice consolation, the fruits of the Spirit, we are actually noticing God. And once we begin to notice God our job is to follow wherever God is leading.

Practice the Examen:

  1. Choose a period of time to examine in prayer. This can be a day, week, or a specific event.
  2. Allow your mind to wander through that period of time. Some questions you might ask yourself about that period include:
    – What am I most/least grateful for during that time?
    – When did I feel a sense of love, peace, joy, life (the gifts of the Spirit)?
    – When did I feel exhausted, dead, drained, angry, mean?
    – What specific events, thoughts, or experiences draw my attention?
    – What aspects of that time repel me?
    – What moments from that time speak to me of my deepest desires?
    – What things feel out of place, uninteresting?
  3. Ask yourself, When did I notice God during this time? What felt like a time of God’s absence?
  4. As some answers to these questions arise, notice what this tells you about the future. How is it that God is calling you into being? Toward what actions, activities, or attributes is God drawing you?
  5. Repeat this prayer at regular intervals in order to see how God is working in your life.

Taken from Creating a Life with God by Daniel Wolpert

Artwork by Trey Everett

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Have a Little Faith

Today I am sharing an essay by the brilliant Anne Lamott. Enjoy!


I was hanging out at the library with two old friends, comparing notes on our lives. All three of us had experienced the usual losses that time brings, yet all of us felt more blessed than we had when we first met. Yes, sometimes the safety-deposit drawers at the memory bank get jammed. Our backs ache, and nothing has become higher, or firmer, in the past few decades. But we were all so grateful for how our lives had turned out that we laughed until the cranky young librarian glared at us.

Age had deepened and widened our sense of faith—and by “faith,” I don’t necessarily mean religious conviction. I’m talking partly about belief in the existence of a divine intelligence but also about faith in goodness, in life, in things mostly working out. And let’s not forget faith in ourselves— the conviction that we are loved and chosen—which is such a component of the spiritual life.

The theologian Paul Tillich famously said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. And I can vouch for that—I think. Getting older has given me more comfort in not knowing the answers. I throw up my hands more often now; I shake my head in wonder at how inscrutable life is. I have finally figured out that “Figure it out” is not a great slogan. My new slogan is “Who knows?”— which leads quite easily to “Who cares? But isn’t it something?” The God of the Old Testament says, “Be still, and know that I am God,” i.e., “Put a sock in it—you are in charge of very little. You could help the dogs at mealtime, as they have no opposable thumbs. But you’re going to have to trust me with the big things.”

Sometimes faith looks like myopia: I don’t see everyone’s faults so clearly as I used to, let alone my own. The God of my later years is not interested in my pores, or cellulite, and hopes that I will stop noticing yours. My vision has blessedly blurred. This is a great advantage when you’re trying to live more spiritually, more expansively, more like Zorba the Greek and less like the Church Lady. For instance, when I sit on my bed now writing on my iPad, the top roll of tummy sometimes creeps over onto the screen and starts typing away. In the old days, upon noticing this unsought collaboration, I would have decided to start a new diet, or to end it all. Now I think, “Who knows? Maybe it’s got something interesting to add.”

I finally have faith that no matter what happens to me, I will never be beyond help, because I have seen parents, friends and acquaintances live with catastrophe and illness. They were beautifully cared for by those who most loved them.

Twenty-nine years in a tiny church has proved to me that when two or more are gathered who believe in Goodness, they will take care of those in their community who are suffering, cared, lonely. So what are my closest people going to do when my time comes? Will they say, “Sorry. We draw the line at horrible Annie. She’s on her own”? No, they will show up, keep me clean, fed, calm, with reruns of The Good Wife, M&Ms, the latest copies of the New Yorker and People. They will help me come through to whatever awaits. I’ve learned that, unless we’re all swept away by hot lava, as my grandson frequently imagines, we can bank on this. Graciousness almost always bats last.

I thought when I was younger that faith was about the confidence to say the great Yes to my own deepest desires, and that is true, as far as it goes. But a deepening faith has also shown me that it’s OK to say No. It has alsO shown me that the word “No” is a complete sentence. This realization led to the single most important life lesson of all: No one over age 55 ever needs to help anyone move again if they don’t want to. Our job now is to help younger movers, with their strong backs and SUVs, by bringing over sandwiches and Cokes. Period.

One of the most important gifts of spiritual faith is forgiveness, and I have grudgingly tugged this gift open over many years, and many hurts, until empathy for the other person has become almost a reflex. I have also grown better at recognizing when I’m the one in need of forgiveness. Most surprisingly, though,
I have finally learned to forgive myself for most of my disappointing character traits and iffier decisions. I know now that I am never going to be a gym rat or an eater of cottage cheese. This side of the grave, I will be absentminded. I always was, and menopause did not bring with it enhanced acuity. Only a few weeks ago, a friend stopped by to borrow a jacket just as I’d started my car. So I ran into the house and got the jacket. Then she asked to use the bathroom. Of course! I thought about turning off the engine, but instead I started to pick up the living room. You know the rest. She came out, we said goodbye, and I went back to straightening up the coffee table. An hour later, the neighbor’s gardener knocked on the door to see if I knew my engine had been running all that time. You can’t really make that seem like something you meant to do. But God knows I tried. Laughter leads to more loving feelings. And as we age,we laugh at ourselves more sweetly.

Yesterday, for instance, my left eye suddenly began to hurt for no reason. I instantly assumed I had inherited my mother’s glaucoma, or ocular shingles, and that it most certainly would lead to a glass eye and a guide dog. And this was all in the 40 seconds before my eye just as suddenly stopped hurting. I sighed. Then I patted myself gently, as I would a friend, and said, “There, there,” and went to make myself a cup of tea.

Essayist Anne Lamott’s latest book is Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.

Anne Lamott’s classic book on writing is called “Bird by Bird” – learn more about it by clicking on the picture of the book.