We were debating the merits of the latest Taylor Swift album with our teenage daughter one Saturday morning recently, when the conversation morphed into a larger discussion on the way people in general and artists in particular evolve over time. How many singers or painters or authors have been criticized when they’ve taken a new path, one unfamiliar to their most loyal fans? They are often seen as traitors for nothing more than testing out new waters or pushing the boundaries of business as usual. We don’t like change. And yet who among us stays the same year after year? Even if we try our best to hold tight and maintain the status quo, life has a way of demanding growth or evolution. And that’s a good thing.
For me, this column is a perfect example of how things have had to change with time. When I first started writing about the intersection of faith and family life back in 2001, I had a preschooler and a 1-year-old. Back then, my columns focused on the joys and challenges of early parenting. But slowly, over the years, the column evolved as my life changed and my family grew and aged, addressing issues related to the tween and teenage years, scouting and dance classes, friendship and high school. Then, like a shape-shifter, it began to change again, only this time the focus moved away from family and toward broader spirituality, as my writing began to reflect my own path through the darkness and light of my faith journey. It reached a point where the column didn’t really fit into any one neat category anymore. Neither did my life, and that’s probably the case for many of us. We have to change, to let go and float along with the current rather than cling to the side for dear life. And that’s a scary thing.
This is the season for making personal resolutions, but this year I’d like to suggest that instead of choosing the typical dramatic (and often unsuccessful) method of self-improvement, we opt for evolution in all its slow-and-steady glory. What are you lugging around that no longer serves you? Maybe it’s time to shed it bit by bit. What do you need to strengthen to get where you need to be? Maybe it’s time to do the work required day by day. Where is God in that mix? Maybe it’s time to sit in silence each day and find out.
At Mass this past Sunday, the second reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians was one I’ve heard a thousand times. On that particular morning, maybe because this column was swirling around in my head, one line jumped out at me as if it were brand new: “Test everything; retain what is good.” (5:21) As soon as I heard it, I wanted to shout, “Yes!” We are expected to test things, in our daily life and in our faith life, and testing means making mistakes and recalculating our route, allowing the Spirit to serve as our interior GPS and redirect us to the better path, which won’t necessarily be easy or unobstructed. Maybe some of our family and friends and fans won’t like the direction we take. We have to test nonetheless and move forward bit by bit, even if it’s one step forward and two steps back. And that’s a challenging thing.
St. Augustine, in his Confessions, wrote: “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars…and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
Maybe this year is the time to start wondering about yourself, not in a self-indulgent way, but in a curious way. What is inside you that is undiscovered, waiting to evolve and emerge? Evolution. Our word for 2018. And that’s an exciting thing.
This column originally appeared in the January 4, 2018, issue of Catholic New York.