August marks the beginning of a new year for those whose lives are ordered by an academic calendar. Although it is the ninth month on the traditional Western calendar, for students, teachers, parents, and other academic professionals, August feels far more significant than January.
If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, it has been filled with cute pictures of youngsters with back packs, lunch boxes, and chalk board signs announcing their age, grade, school etc. Others include a college dorm room and car full of boxes. Many of these posts are annotated by a parent’s commentary on how fast time has flown by along with their own fears, hopes and dreams for their children, most likely unbeknownst to their child.
As a student, you may have limped through the spring with summer in mind, and now, with a quasi-clean slate, it starts all over again. Maybe you are a teacher at a new school or tackling a new grade or subject matter. Maybe you are desperately praying for your child to have a better year and make just one good friend. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your August, now, despite to frantic pace of back to school festivities, is the perfect time to treat the new year with the same reflective space as December 31st.
Whether you relate to the academic calendar or merely find yourself surrounded by those that do, now is an excellent time to try a new spiritual practice along with the rhythm and chaos that a school year brings. One of my favorite ways to connect with both God and other people is through the Ignatian Prayer or Prayer of Examen. You may have used this prayer before and not even realized it. Sometimes it’s boiled down to “highs and lows,” as in, “what was your high/highlight of the day? what was your low/lowlight?” The exercise includes expressing gratitude for the good things and praying for a better way tomorrow in the shortcomings.
This is a great practice for several reasons:
Anyone can do it.
Children can talk about the best and worst part of their days. Teens and adults can reflect on where they felt God most present and God most absent. If you are not regularly surrounded by a group of people, this also makes for a perfect journal exercise.
It creates space for reflection.
In the busyness of everyday demands,it is imperative that we stop and consider God at work in the world. Some people like to lit a Christ candle (a candle representing Christ’s presence) while the practice the Prayer of Examen, others enjoy finding a special spot reserved just for prayer.
It fosters gratitude.
Research suggests gratitude makes us happier and healthier. Gratitude is also a spiritual discipline of its own, and one every family can work on together.
It promotes awareness.
Everyone needs a little encouragement occasionally to pay attention to God at work in their day. We get so caught up in what we need to accomplish that we often lose our sense of wonder. Awareness is equally important in the places God seems absent. This leads us to good questions and further prayer.
It makes prayer and devotion, particularly as a family, a little bit easier.
A sense of understanding and connection in any family, small group, friendship etc. is vital to flourishing relationships. Cross-generational relationships can be even more difficult when it comes to producing empathetic conversations. But maybe the sharing of today’s highs and lows might make a sibling squabble a little less heated, a child’s day more significant in their parent’s eyes, a friend’s bad mood a little more palatable.
As you approach the other new year give the Prayer of Ignatius a try. You might find a new way to relate to God and your family.