It’s a new year. With newness comes expectation, a mingling of hope and fear. Resolutions have been made (and maybe even already broken). People have chosen a new word of the year, bought new journals, joined new gyms, etc. Whatever the traditions you prefer, a new year brings the hope of new adventures, new beauty, new life. But it can also bring fear of what’s to come. There are also some intense global events slotted for 2024. It’s a year when half the world’s population voting in elections coincides with the unprecedented new capabilities of artificial intelligence. Regardless of political leanings, everyone has found legitimate reasons to be concerned about what is happening in the world.
Whether the new year brings an exciting series of bucket-list items achieved or a catastrophic thwarting of every plan, Jesus Christ is still King of the Universe. His love, his power and his grace are not held back by global events or personal tragedies. That doesn’t mean those things aren’t important — they are. It does mean our attitude toward them has to remain one of hope; not necessarily hope in the outcome we expect, but hope in the God who will still be King, regardless of the outcome.
This hope is not a Pollyanna-esque denial of the reality of brokenness, it’s a changed perspective: a persevering awareness of the whole story of salvation, a childlike dependence on the author of that story, and the resolute, concrete belief that he actually can work all things for good for those who love him. That belief in the reality of redemption is not just an abstract, intellectual idea. It needs to penetrate and permeate the daily, concrete, normal world we live in.
What does that look like?
I’d like to offer the practice of the Ignatian Examen as a uniquely practical and effective tool for being attentive to the daily presence of God.
While there are many variations on the practice, the basic idea is to spend time every day reflecting on the specific events of your day and looking for where God was at work in them. This might mean remembering an impulse you had to talk to a stranger, the way that a friend reminded you that you are loved or how moved you were by the sunset. It also means looking honestly at the places where you failed to respond to his movements and grace, and repenting of where you went wrong. Then you bring it all — good and bad — to him, offer it to him, and ask him what he wants you to know about it. And finally, based on what you saw about your day — make one small, specific and achievable resolution about how to do better tomorrow than you did today.
This practice over time will build your awareness of how grace plays out in your daily life and your ability to see God at work in every moment. It will also give you very specific tools for how to change and grow, based on your actual behavior.
Whether or not the practice makes it into your daily routine, this attitude of specific reflection is important to adopt if we want to be attentive to how God is working for our salvation and that of the whole world, specifically in 2024. It can be tempting to think that the way to fix all the brokenness of the world is to get back to the way things were. It can also be tempting to think God’s actions are abstract and enormous and that the absence of world-altering events means that we are still waiting for him to show up. Neither of those versions match the way we’ve seen God work in the past.
When Adam and Eve gave in to original sin, God’s plan was not to bring us back to Eden, but to come in the flesh to rescue us, to be in relationship with us, and to open the door to eternal union with him. He did not walk us back to Eden, he did something better.
What he did was not show up in all his terrifying glory, or even as a powerful political figure, to overthrow the oppression of the Roman Empire. He came as a baby, lived a small life and died a painful death. His grace is intimate, the transfiguration it brings comes person by person. His Kingdom is not of this world, it is of each one of our hearts.
God is not limited by world events. Nor is he limited to the ways he spoke to Roman martyrs, or medieval Europeans or homesteading Americans. He is alive and he is with us now, and the ways he will work in our lives will be as specific and unique as every human person.
The Pillar, a Catholic news source, had a line a few months ago that I still can’t stop thinking about. It claimed that we have “a crisis of interpretation — that we in the West don’t see the hidden mystery of God’s movement in our own era and moment.” As the world continues to change — for better and worse — we don’t need to anxiously try to trace a path back to how it was. We can be attentive to the places where God speaks and works and moves in our normal, daily lives and be confident that his work in 2024 will be specific, personal, living and just as powerful as it ever has been.