New Year - New Decade: WAKE UP!

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

The holiday season has passed and we are beginning another new year and a new decade. There is something sobering about considering the start of a new decade: it marks time, it reminds us that we don’t have unlimited opportunities, and that there are no do overs. This makes it all the more important for us to “stay awake”. Kierkegaard reminds us that too often we are “tranquilized by the trivial,” and he wrote that well before social media, video games, TV, etc.

Fredrick Buechner, in contrast, offers a solution: “If I were called upon to state in a few words everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See if for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

So, what does it mean to truly listen to your life?

  1. Listen and be attentive to what’s really important and make sure that’s where you are investing your time and energy. The late philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich defined faith as that which you are ultimately concerned about. What is most important should consume a large percentage of our time and energy. If too much time is spent on that which is not really important, there is a problem. Clarify what’s most important to you and then examine how you allocate time to test whether you are spending adequate time on what you believe is most important.
  2. Listen to those who are important to you. Unfortunately, we all have blinders. A recent study suggested that most men find themselves far more attractive than they really are. Our important others can remind us of where our flaws are and where we need to grow: they can help us listen to our lives more realistically. Take the feedback seriously as you begin this new year and decade. At the same time, tune into what those same important others need. Listen for what is important to them and seek to meet more of their needs for understanding and empathy.
  3. Listen to moments of grace! Slow down and tune into spiritual moments. Every so often when I’m snowboarding in the mountains, I see the mountain ranges differently as if for the first time. In those moments I’m filled with awe, both at their majesty as well as my own insignificance. The same thing happens when I’m playing with my grandkids and suddenly see them differently and become overwhelmed by joy. Be awake enough to see, to sense the divine, to experience grace. Whether it comes through the beauty of nature, those we love, a moment of silence, or as simply as a good cup of coffee with a friend… listen for moments of grace.
  4. Listen to those in need and make a difference. In the midst of the beauty of the world there is also great pain and brokenness. In the midst of affluence there is poverty, and in the midst of children’s joy, there are children suffering. Meaning comes when we invest in making a difference in the world, which, in the end, awakens us and brings joy. An old study suggested that healthy families and couples have a sense of transcendence and purpose. As a result, their own happiness is not a priority as they try to make a difference in the world. Their health grows through their investment in making a difference.
  5. Finally, listen to all that brings gratitude! It is easy to take life for granted and live on autopilot… so easy to find much to complain about. Listening to our lives can fill us with gratitude if we focus on hearing it.

At the beginning of this new decade - wake up and listen!