Saturday, January 7, 2012

Writing our personal history in 2012

History is more than the study of the past
When I was in high school, I took History 12.  I had a logical reason for enrolling in the course. I was very good at the Humanities, and less competent in the hard sciences like Physics.  I wanted to round out my transcript with a serious course that would also boost my GPA and balance out the less brilliant grades in sciences.

At that time, I viewed history as a series of events that had happened long ago and mostly far away.   History was the study of the past. Even if the adage, ‘history repeats itself,’ was correct, I was not living in historic times.

As I’ve grown older (and maybe a little wiser), I realize that every year has its historic moments.  The year 2011 was packed full of significant events. Events such as the assassination of Bin Laden, the death of Momar Gadhafi, the revolutions in North Africa, the sovereign debt crises in Europe, Jack Layton and the Orange Crush, and the Occupy Movement galvanized our attention. These events pointed towards political, economic, and social change. The passage of time will determine their historical legacy.

We live our lives against the backdrop of historical world events
Against the backdrop of historical world events, each of us lives out our own personal history.  Most of us are bit players on the world history stage, but we are the authors of our own story, and the stars of our daily life. It is a common response as a new year begins to reflect on the previous year, and to turn our attention to improving our performance. We make resolutions that we hope will have a positive impact on our personal histories.  The New Year is a time when we collectively think about writing our history for the coming year.

New Year's Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions commonly focus on self-improvement through doing things and the setting of goals. The most common resolution is to lose weight.  Other popular resolutions are to improve fitness, save money and reduce debt, quit smoking, spend more time with family, learn something new, and improve work-life balance. Resolutions are geared towards improving our appearance, health, status, finances, knowledge and relationships.

"Fat and Slim Ladies" 
"Quit Smoking" 
"Piggy Bank" 

Most of us are not very good at sticking to our New Year’s resolutions, and we make many of the same resolutions year after year. The average life span of a New Year’s resolution is 6 weeks, while 30% of people abandon their resolutions before the end of January.  Many of our resolutions fail because history repeats itself; “old habits die hard,” and new habits take determination and support in order to develop.  Counselors note that people fail to achieve their resolutions because they set unrealistic and broad goals, and rely on their own efforts instead of asking others to help them stay on track.

I think there is another reason why resolutions have a short life span. Resolutions revolve around our ego.  A certain amount of ego spurs us to strive for greater things. It can motivate us to make beneficial changes in our life. But, too much ego can make us arrogant, and arrogance hinders spiritual growth. Placing our resolutions in a spiritual context shifts our focus away from doing things to becoming the person we are created to be.

Spiritual transformation is more than self-improvement
Spiritual growth involves more than self-improvement, and achieving goals.  The task of spiritual growth is to assist the individual in becoming holy. Growing in holiness is a slow process that transforms us at the deepest level of our being. Transformation does not happen suddenly in a “Eureka!” moment of conversion. It takes place over the course of a lifetime as the individual edges away from imperfection towards perfection, from brokenness to wholeness, from sinfulness to holiness. Sanctification is never the result of our own singular efforts; it is a humble response to the grace of God, who offers us a share in divine life.

When we formulate our New Year’s resolutions, we ask ourselves, “What do I want to accomplish in the upcoming year?” Transformation prompts us to ask the more fundamental question, “Who am I?” This question helps us discover our deepest identity, which ultimately lies in our relationship to God. Our identity determines our actions and our view of life. “Who am I?” shapes the writing of our personal historical legacy.

PHOTO CREDITS: Courtesy of the following artists and
"Piggy Bank" by graur razvan ionut 
"Quit Smoking"by zole4 
"Fat and Slim Ladies by africa 


cmm said...

I recently had a conversation about happiness, and the person I was speaking to said somethig to the effect of trying to find more happiness in doing things rather than in having things. I wondered at the time why we don't derive more joy from being. So you can imagine that I like this post a lot. I find the comments about ego insightful in particular and hadn't made that connection on my own in the past.

Louise McEwan said...

Thanks, CCM, for taking the time to comment. Just 'being' seems to be a difficult task. Most of us are hot wired for doing things, and if we are not doing things and/or accumulating things, popular culture prods us to change.