YOUR Top Ten Stories from 2020

For a decade now, I've posted an annual guide to help each of us determine The Top Ten Stories in our lives for the past year.  This year one story, the pandemic, has had a profound impact on all the stories of all our lives - so I've tailored this template along those lines. You might use these questions as a guide for your prayer and reflection or to help you sit down and write your own Top Ten Stories of 2020.

1) This year has been the source of many sad and tragic stories so let's start with the harder question: What was the happiest story of my life in the past year? In the midst of all the bad news, what brought me some relief, some happiness - even some joy?  How did that story begin?  How did it end? Who were the characters in that story as it unfolded?  How might I keep the memory of that story alive in my heart, to sustain me through whatever difficult times the new year might bring?  Have I taken time to thank God for this happiness?  What particular happy story might I anticipate, hope for, pray for in 2021?

2) What was the most deeply spiritual story in my life in 2020? When was I most aware of God, of my Higher Power, of the Spirit alive in my soul?  How did God move in my life in the past year - and how did I respond to God's presence within and around me? What was (were) my deepest moment(s) of prayer? Did the pandemic deepen my prayer life - or make it more difficult? How would I "chart" my spiritual journey in 2020: its ups and downs, its twists and turns, its straightaways and its detours, its clear paths and its dead ends?  How did restrictions on community worship impact my spiritual life: negatively and/or positively? Did I find ways to be at prayer with others during the pandemic? What are my hopes and resolutions for the new year ahead? Where do I hope my spiritual journey will take me in 2021?

3) What was the most selfless story of my past year? In what ways did the pandemic offer me opportunities to serve others, care for others, sacrifice for others? Who were the people in my life who gave up things for me?  What did I let go of for others? What did I receive in what others offered me? Was I open to how others wanted to be generous to me? Have I expressed my gratitude?   What are some practical ways in which I might become a more generous person as the story 2021 unfolds? 

4) Is there a story of my making peace in the past year? Did I let go any old grudges? Brush some chips from my shoulder? Broom some resentments from the corners of my heart?  Did I forgive anyone?  Accept anyone's forgiveness of me? Were there some differences and divisions I helped to resolve?  Am I carrying any hard feelings into the new year?  As I review the year behind me, do I find myself to be at peace with God?  with my neighbor? with myself? What left-over peace making responsibilities am I carrying into 2021?  What's my plan for working on them? Who are the people, in what situations, might I be a peacemaker in the year ahead?

5) This one's a hard question - but important to ask: What's the most selfish story I recall from the past year? Did I prosper at the expense of someone else? Were there times when I put my own needs ahead of those around me at home or at work or at school? How did my selfishness hurt others?  What can I learn about myself in all of this?  Have I made amends for any selfishness? In what situations, in whose lives, might I be a more selfless person as the story of my new year begins and plays out?

6) What was the saddest story I have to tell from 2020?  And it might be difficult to name just one here... What happened that left me feeling wounded, empty, lost? Who helped me through that time? Who shared my burden with me?  Was I able to bring my sorrow to the Lord? to prayer? What did I lose in this story - and what did I find in living through that loss? Have I healed from this sadness or am I still clinging to it? How can I reverence the memory of this sadness without letting it consume my attention and energy? Have I asked the Lord to heal and mend this sadness in my life?  Can I name and reach out to someone whose story of sadness I know, someone whose spirits I might help lift in 2021?  

7) Among all the many disturbing images of pain and suffering in the past year, what story of beauty survives in my mind, my imagination my heart? Something in nature? A concert? Watching a child grow? A wedding? Someone's story of perseverance and survival? The beauty of so many giving so much for others?  A friendship? A work of art? A book or a poem? A vacation? A personal accomplishment? A touch, an embrace, a newfound love? Have I shared the beauty of this experience with anyone else?  Have I expressed my gratitude for such beauty?  Have I thanked God for this beauty, God from whom all beauty and blessings flow? Have I made time for moments of beauty in my life? Can I name a time, a place or an opportunity when I might look for and share something beautiful with others in the New Year...

8) What’s the story of new acquaintances and friends who became part of my life in 2020? It's likely the pandemic cut me off from some family and friends - but how did it help me meet and get to know new people in my life?  Or how did the pandemic serve to deepen my relationship with people who have been in my life for a long time? How is my life richer for having these new folks, these improved relationships, in my life? How did I enrich the lives of others? Who are the people around me whom I might reach out to in 2021?  The Lord is the best and most faithful friend I have: how will I need, find and nurture the Lord's friendship in my story in 2021?

9) What was the story of the greatest challenge or change in my life in the past year? How did this change or challenge impact my life? my spirituality? my faith? my relationships with others and my understanding of their difficulties? If this challenge, this change was difficult, how did I seek and accept help in living with it? If this challenge, this change was a happy one, how did I share it with others and invite them to benefit from it?  What challenges lie ahead of me in 2021 and how will I ask God to help me accept them, work with them and meet them? How has 2020 prepared me for my story of challenges and changes in 2021?

10) What’s the most unfinished story left over from my life in 2020? What are the loose ends I need to tie up? What fear, hesitation or just plain laziness has kept me from completing something I wanted, needed and planned to do? Are others waiting for me to bring this in? Am I waiting for others to help me? Am I ready or slow to accept others' help?  What still needs to be done - and how and when will I get to that in the year ahead? What peace, what happiness might be mine were I to bring some closure to this unfinished story?  Where is God in my unfinished story?  How might I open myself and invite the Lord to have a greater role in bringing to fulfillment all the stories he begins in me?  How will God be the resolution of my stories in the year ahead?

I doubt that your Top Ten list or mine will be published anywhere but pondering these questions and looking at the past year with an eye to the year ahead will at least be instructive and, it's to be hoped, very helpful.

We all have a new year ahead of us and with it will come new stories to add to our personal histories.  I pray that yours will be filled with faith, hope and love for you and all whose paths will cross yours in 2021.     Happy New Year!


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