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The why of it all in 2021

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Will a one-digit change — from 0 to 1 — provide the magical pivot point to a better year? Hope springs eternal, but we also know that like so many New Years past (none of which were preceded by 2020), our aspirations for 2021 will meet stiff resistance in the weeks ahead.

So then, let’s hit pause before we trot out our usual resolutions. Yes 2020 walloped us, reorienting our entire lives. Should the sum total of our response be a resolution to get in shape, declutter our home or finally take that cross-country trip? Probably not.

We recently listened to an episode of Arthur Brooks’ "The Art of Happiness." His guest was a fitness guru who started his career by obsessing over his physique. After some years of punishing weightlifting, his body rebelled and became quite sick. As a result, he started learning about the bigger picture of what constitutes health.

After working on other aspects of his health — nutritional, mental, relational, spiritual — he slowly recovered. Eventually, he realized that his physical appearance had improved far beyond what he had ever achieved when he was obsessed with it alone. It turned out that the thing he so desired could only be achieved as an indirect effect of a greater goal.

And that’s why, despite the hesitation we may feel given that 2020 just schooled us in our lack of control, we should step way back and aim for greater goals in 2021. Because the difficulty we experience in achieving smaller goals is directly related to not devoting enough time to our highest ideals.

What’s our biggest goal, the one we put off because we’re "not there yet" and have so many smaller dreams that seem more achievable? What’s the why of it all? It’s getting to heaven, living our lives with God, a life that can begin here and now. It’s what we think we need to build up to. It’s also where the grace for growth in all areas of life resides.

Yes, in 2021, we should go for broke and shoot for the stars. Let’s give up the small goals that we somehow never find enough grace to succeed at and make our goal for 2021 to begin heavenly life right now. But if we would like to find heaven in our lives this year, we should get clear on what heaven is and is not.

Our culture offers a glowing version of its own heaven — being beautiful, surrounded by fashionable décor, using chic products, partaking of foodie-approved meals and endless entertainment, posting about our curated lives, all while planning our next exciting trip and donating a bit of what’s left to charity. But wouldn’t having this heaven as our goal be a bit like obsessing over our physique and ignoring the bigger picture of what constitutes health?

In the workshops we lead, we work alongside families who are focused on a different heaven, with "building a Trinity House," a domestic church in which the family reflects the other-centered life of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and so begin to dwell with and in him. Instead of focusing on our image and comfort, we try to focus on loving one another so much — like the divine persons — that our love overflows to friends, neighbors and even strangers, bringing heaven within reach for more and more people.

If we follow the culture’s lead, equating heaven with our image and comfort, we could spend our whole lives trying to make that picture come together, getting sick along the way and never arriving at the real goal. Though we’re all guilty of pursuing at least part of that worldly vision, we also know that the more we pursue it, the more it results in impersonal lifestyles, weakened faith and at-risk families.

In our culture, instead of life being an intimate but ever-widening circle of people using their gifts to care for one another, we often exist to serve ourselves. And we’re painfully familiar with the results: anxiety, depression, isolation, divorce, intensifying social division and the rapid decline of connection to a faith that is designed to transform us into people who live for others.

As we enter 2021, we invite you to join us in learning to live with God in the here and now. We will likely find that our smaller goals fall into place along the way, as together our lives attest: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Soren and Ever are co-founders of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021