As December draws to a close, the bare trees and winter winds tempt me to think that God lies dormant with the rest of creation. He chose this season, however, for His incarnation, showing me that the Lord works wonders in the moments that seem the most unexpected. Wherever you find yourself as we transition into the new year, here are three simple practices that allow me to give God the space to bring forth and cultivate new growth in my own spiritual life.
3 Simple Ways To Cultivate Grace In The New Year
1. Start with something new.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19
Whether your heart feels like a well-watered garden from a faith-filled past few months or if your soul feels more like the parched land referenced by the prophet Isaiah, the break between semesters offers the perfect opportunity to experience something new for the sake of your faith. A retreat, mission trip, or pilgrimage could set the stage for the Lord to do “a new thing” in your soul.
Step away from the hustle and bustle of the world and into a sacred space of encounter on a retreat. With infinite distractions demanding our attention, we can lose sight of God’s action in our lives as our minds become muddled in the noise of the world. Check out your home parish or Catholic center’s retreat opportunities or look into organizations like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) or St. Paul’s Outreach. FOCUS’s annual conference, SEEK23 is in St. Louis Jan. 2-6 and offers talks from renowned Catholic speakers, fellowship with thousands of Catholic young adults in attendance and time for prayer and the sacraments. If you can’t make it in person, you can register for SEEK Where You Are and experience the event from wherever you are (and have access to the talks for six months).
Like a retreat, a mission trip or pilgrimage involves a little detachment from the world and renews your faith by action. Either experience brings you to an unfamiliar place where you meet God through prayer, service, or both. FOCUS offers opportunities for mission trips and pilgrimages, as well as many local churches and apostolates like the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT). If going overseas feels a bit too far, serve with your local food pantry or homeless shelter and search for God in the poor. You could make a pilgrimage in a daytrip by visiting the closest shrine and turning off your phone for 24 hours. Like a desert rain brings a barren land to bloom, experiencing something out of the ordinary can revive a dry spiritual life.
2. Find a rhythm.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Acts 2:42
Though the Lord provides the rains and brings forth the springs that water your budding spiritual life, the rhythms of your daily habits shape the soil for those buds to take root and grow strong. Unless you want to forfeit the graces of a retreat, mission trip, or other singular experience, you need to adopt a “rule of life” as St. Benedict would say. Learning from the practices of the first Christians described in Acts, a routine centered around formation, community and a sacramental life of prayer will continue to allow God to cultivate your life of faith.
For regular formation, find a podcast or spiritual book to sharpen your mind. A couple places to start could be Ascension’s Bible in a Year or Catechism in a Year podcasts, both hosted by Fr. Mike Schmitz in 20-30 minute episodes to fit into your morning or night routine. To seek community, join a Bible study or start one yourself. As iron sharpens iron, living a virtuous life requires faith-based friendships. Essential to a rule of life is the grace of prayer and the sacraments. If you’re not already committed to Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, start there, and begin to schedule at least 15-20 minutes a day for mental prayer in a quiet, peaceful place. You could also start incorporating daily Mass into your week and commit to receiving the sacrament of confession on a monthly basis. After you’ve set some goals to find your rhythm, whip out your phone’s calendar or paper planner and put it into action. The way you live forms either a rich or arid soil for consistent spiritual growth.
3. Lean into grace.
“Law came in to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” – Romans 5:20
While going to SEEK or serving on a mission trip may sow seeds that renew your faith and inspire you to form habits that continue fostering your spiritual life, do not fear the difficulties and setbacks that arise. Even St. Paul found himself committing the very things he did not wish to do (Romans 7:15). Life with Christ is like a garden cultivated by actions but brought to life by grace. Sometimes weeds grow among the wheat or a drought drains the land, but in all things God is faithful. When you find yourself feeling isolated, miss a day of prayer or Mass, return to the Lord in confession, call a friend and recommit to your goals. You can always make a retreat or pilgrimage in the middle of the year as well. Ultimately, lean into God’s abounding grace and take heart that He will bring the new work He brought forth in you to flourish like rivers streaming through the desert.
SEEK23 – You are called to conversion of heart.
About the Author Morgan Knobloch: A small-town girl at heart, Morgan graduated from Texas A&M University, where the Lord first planted her desire for mission. She now serves as a team director with FOCUS at Angelo State University, learning a little more each day about what it means to bear Christ to the world. She’s excited to see the impact that SEEK23 has on the group of students she will be accompanying. Learn more about Morgan at focus.org/missionaries/morgan-knobloch.