By guest blogger Emily Dagostino
On Monday, Jan. 2, despair struck with a shock. Every choice I’d made and every part of my life and self suddenly seemed wrong. I awoke in the middle of the night and without opening my eyes began to pray for God to “take the poison out of me.” It was the first prayer I’d made in weeks.
Last year, for the first time since high school, I had slowly nurtured the rebirth of a spiritual life. Daily prayer eventually became a sort of rope with which I climbed out of anxiety and trauma, and safely rapelled from terrifying heights of first-time foster parenting’s numerous fears.
After racing through 2011, however, I was sprinting toward exhaustion in the weeks leading up to the New Year. My spiritual aspirations flagged. My yen to pray dried up. I started skipping Mass in exchange for an extra hour at home to catch up on housework. By the end, I’d quit praying every day, and then every week. In some sense it was easier not to pray. Breaking from it and church was a liberating and gratifying rebellion. Plus the dirge-like Advent music was making me sick.
And that’s exactly what happened when I stopped praying: I got sick. Of everything and everyone, including myself.
By committing to daily prayer in 2011, I’d slowly managed to grow out of the selfish view that I deserve things to be just as I want them to be; that I deserve to be rewarded just for being me. In the past few months as I quit praying, I quickly slid back into the self-centered pit from which I’d barely emerged.
Like everything worth doing—which for me includes marriage, parenting, and writing—prayer is work. I worked hard on so many fronts last year: attempting to cultivate a spiritual life from rigid non-belief; going through the rigorous and endless rites of learning to be a foster mom; and, on top of a full-time job, devoting time every day to writing and submitting my work to publications for consideration. On most of these fronts, my work didn’t reap money, fame or, really, any externally quantifiable benchmarks of success.
After beginning 2012 with an emotional jolt, I’ve now had a few days to return to a baseline of humility, remembering that the goal wasn’t ever to expect or seek worldly reward for my efforts. The church music isn’t always (or likely ever) going to be exactly the way I want it to be. The kids aren’t always going to make the strides I wish they’d make. The writing may never be published. I may never know God the way I want to know God.
Although self-interest puts up a fierce fight against service, the truth is that my choices to marry, foster parent, and write weren’t founded in what I’d take from them but in wanting to give something of my life to something—and someone—other than me. Certainly on some level that stems from a Catholic upbringing that ingrained in me the value (whether I believe it or not) of serving others as a means of serving God. On that note, in 2012 I resolve to continue working to serve God by serving others, which creates another type of reward—really, the best: more love.
On the flip side of loving God and each other, I’m taught that God loves me unconditionally. Rather than looking for external reward and validation, then, I also resolve this year to hold tight to that teaching and to say thanks for God’s love every day. As was the case last year, I hope that daily prayer rooted in gratitude will be a first line of defense in 2012 against future bouts of exhaustion and despair.
Emily Dagostino is a writer who lives and works in Oak Park, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a master’s degree in print journalism from Northwestern University.
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians. This post is part of a short series on New Year’s resolutions.