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2024: The Year of Patience

In last year’s January post, I explained how a good friend of mine has a tradition where every New Year’s Eve he comes up with a word that defines the coming year. The idea is that whatever word he chooses will become an aspirational theme that guides his life over the next 12 months. Last year, my word for the year was freedom. This was primarily driven by my decision to leave the pastorate.


At the time, I had no idea that claiming my freedom from the pastorate would be such a public affair. Most people switching professions mid-life do so with little fanfare. In fact, those at my stage who decide to completely retool their profession try to keep their transition quiet for fear of judgment. The whispers are all too common that a man in his mid-40’s abandoning his employment is enduring a mid-life crisis.


I found it rather ironic that out of all my writing, my decision to leave the church is the one that garnered the most attention. No one really paid me much heed while I was toiling away in the church, serving my community. But the moment I leave, well, everyone has something to say about that. Today, my post from September is hovering at nearly 400,000 views. Even after four months, there are still 200 people reading that article every week.


Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned from the events of September is that you cannot engineer success and you can never anticipate what will strike a chord. You must simply persist in pursuing your passions. If you strive to achieve your best within your chosen endeavor, then eventually the accolades will follow. Those accolades may not reflect what you believe to be your best work, but if your output is worthy of reception, then people will gravitate towards your creativity.


Thanks to this lesson learned from freedom in 2023, the word that I am choosing for 2024 is patience.


Chance and Choice


Before I can delve into why I have chosen the word patience for this year, I need to take a moment to dismantle the concept of God having a plan for our lives. I have spoken at length in Restorative Faith about how I do not believe that God has a plan for human beings. To summarize why I dismiss this idea is due to the disparity in human suffering. If I believe God has a plan for my life and I am successful, then I have to reconcile my success with the horrors millions of human beings endure everyday due to war, abuse, famine and poverty.


The theological concept of God’s plan cuts both ways. If God is planning achievement for one person, God is also planning hardship, suffering and death for another. Put simply, if you subscribe to a God of unconditional love (which I do), then such a belief is incompatible with a God that would plan for the harm of any human being. Therefore, I believe that the world we inhabit is driven by two factors—chance and choice.


We are all subject to chance at our births. Some of us are born into families with stable parents, lots of resources, and endless possibilities. Others are born into families whose parents can barely care for themselves, let alone their children. This roll of the dice determines a lot about the potential of your life before you are even born. A girl born in rural North Korea is going have a very different potential for success than a white middle-class male born in the United States.


Missile strike in Zaporizhzhia killed 2 and wounded 39 many of whom were children (Photo Credit: Novi)

After chance has dictated how you start your life, choices then determine the remainder. Sometimes these are choices that are imposed on you by others. Wars like those in Ukraine and Gaza are the result of decisions from the upper echelons of governments over which the average person has no control. As a child, your parents impose choices on you that have an outsized impact on your life. Children with parents who are kind, loving and patient will often rear children who are psychologically and emotionally stable. Whereas children of neglectful and abusive parents are often prone to psychological and behavioral problems that follow them for the rest of their lives.    


Then, finally, when you come of age, you gain the autonomy to make decisions for yourself. Those decisions, which are influenced by all the factors above, have domino effects over your life, often in ways you cannot fully comprehend when you are making them. For example, the choice to drink alcohol when you are young is a choice that can compound into an addiction later in life. Vice versa, the choice to study and learn as much knowledge as possible (assuming you have access to education) can compound into the potential for obtaining lucrative employment later in life.


With all of these factors influencing the trajectory of our lives, it’s no wonder that so many people feel a lack of autonomy. This also explains why so many people are comfortable with the explanation that God has a plan for their lives. Blaming your life circumstances on a deity with the power to orchestrate the outcome of human destiny feels better than conceding you are subject to the random chance of the universe. However, I want to take a moment to discuss the random chance of the universe because it plays an important role in my choice for this year's word patience.


Right Place, Right Time


Throughout most of my life, the fortune I have experienced is because I was in the right place at the right time. I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your life from time to time. When I was younger, I used to believe that these moments were the result of God rewarding me for good behavior. Today, I see those moments through the lens of the right combination of chance and choice. In fact, in my new book Restorative Beauty, I offer a very nuanced explanation of how these moments arise in our lives through a concept known as synchronicity.


The term synchronicity was originally coined by the analytical psychologist Carl G. Jung “to describe circumstances that appear meaningfully related yet lack a causal connection.” Jung acknowledged that our minds are programmed to identify causal relationships from seemingly improbable events. In fact, he argued that an important aspect of creating a healthy psyche is how we weave these random chance occurrences into our life narratives.


A good example of synchronicity is how I met my wife, Courtney, in college. By chance, we ended up sitting near each other at the restaurant at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Thanks to our close proximity, we had the opportunity to converse. Within seconds I was enamored. This woman was extraordinarily intelligent, strikingly beautiful and, most importantly, we had a palpable chemistry. Eventually, I mustered the courage to ask her out. For our first date, I invited her to my dorm room to watch a movie. Upon entering, she immediately noticed a print of a painting above my computer. It was hard to miss as my walls were otherwise barren. The print was of a painting by Gustave Caillebotte hung at Musee d’Orsay in Paris called The Floor Scrapers.


The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte

Courtney was awestruck that of all the possible art I could have on my wall, I had this particular Caillebotte. While Courtney was studying abroad in Italy, she had taken a trip to Paris where she visited the Musee d’Orsay. She encountered this painting and sat for nearly an hour studying it. If you’ve never seen The Floor Scrapers or been exposed to Caillebotte’s work, he was part of the French Impressionist Movement. His subjects, like many of the impressionists, were average people traversing their ordinary lives. The Floor Scrapers captures three men refinishing a floor in an apartment. Caillebotte managed to capture this seemingly unremarkable moment in the most transcendent fashion. His use of shadows and light and the position of the men’s bodies mid-movement causes the scene to feel alive.


When I was studying at Oxford University, a friend of mine who travelled to Paris saw this painting at the d’Orsay and was transfixed by it in the same way as Courtney. She bought the print for me as a gift. I hung it above my computer as the only artwork on my wall at Oxford. As a result, similar to Courtney, I had spent much time examining the intricacies of this piece. It felt to me a reflection of my own struggles in life; a reminder of how our daily toil as human beings, although seemingly unremarkable, possesses incredible beauty.


Courtney and Alex at our first dance at Rice University

What are the chances that of all the artwork I could have on my wall, the one piece would be of her favorite painting? As we got to know each other, there were other strange elements we had in common. Her father’s family were Hungarian Jews who had immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. My father’s family were Hungarian Jews who had immigrated around the same time. Both of our nuclear families had relinquished their Jewish heritage in favor of Christianity. Our Jewish fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers had the exact same names.


What are the odds that, out of all the people I could have dated at Rice, I would meet the one person who has a parallel background to my own? Our relationship felt like it was meant to be, as if it was fate for us to meet and spend the rest of our lives together. What’s crazy to think about is that moment of synchronicity would not have happened if I hadn’t attended that birthday party and sat next to her.


Square Peg, Round Hole


What’s fascinating about this encounter is that, about two months prior to meeting Courtney, I had made a decision that I was no longer going to seek out a romantic relationship. I came to this decision due to numerous bad experiences. During the previous three years, I had been actively seeking a romantic partner, but I kept running into problems. I had dated several women, but the outcome was always the same. They seemed nice, but we had very little in common.


I was so determined to have a girlfriend that I kept trying to force the issue. I’d meet a girl and ask her out, knowing we had very little chemistry. Sadly, I didn’t care. I was so desperate to find a girlfriend that I didn't care how mismatched we were. When my last relationship failed, I realized my approach was futile. I said to myself, “Stop trying to manufacture love. You need to learn how to be content by yourself, first and foremost.”


The moment I gave up on “finding” love is when I met Courtney. Indeed, I have found this approach to be true in every aspect of my life. When I stop fighting against the tide and forcing my way through life, I find myself often being in the right place at the right time. The less I try to control the outcome, the more common are those synchronous events, hence, my word of the year—patience.


Now that I have freedom, I need to be patient and not try to bend the universe to my will. Rather, I need to bend to the will of the universe and wait for those moments of synchronicity to fall into place. My hope is that, when I’m writing this post a year from now, I will be able to tell you about some of those moments of being in the right place at the right time because I was patient.


Now that you’ve read about why I have chosen patience as my word for the year, I would be interested to know: What are the moments of synchronicity that have impacted your life? Also, if selecting a word of the year is a common practice for you, please share your word for this year and why you chose it? If you’re willing, please share in the comments below. Happy New Year!

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7件のコメント


lekor adams
lekor adams
6月10日

2024: The Year of Patience reminds us of the power of perseverance and resilience in our personal journeys. Whether you're working towards a professional goal or overcoming personal challenges, patience is key. For those battling addiction, patience is especially crucial. Observing signs your liver is healing and experiencing the benefits of sobriety can take time. The Canadian Centre for Addictions, a residential treatment facility, supports individuals through this process. They specialize in helping those addicted to alcohol and other drugs learn the skills needed to live an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle. Embrace patience in 2024, and celebrate the gradual progress towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.

いいね!

Jess H
Jess H
1月07日

Great post, Alex! My word for 2023 was "Enough", and it fit just right. For 2024, my word is "Cultivate" - a reminder to consider what I'm growing/nurturing in my thoughts, words, actions, intentions, choices. Like choice vs. chance, I recognize that some aspects of my life are within my scope of influence, and the rest - I can cling to with effort and fervor, or - I can surrender.

"Cultivate" brings to mind the ways I tend my gardens (physical, Spiritual, psychological, social, etc.) and shine a light on a hopeful path forward. Whether it's in the seeds I sow, plants I nurture, the community around me, or the compost we all become... there's an opportunity in every choice…

いいね!

Bob Martin
Bob Martin
1月02日

There's an old North Carolina expression: Ya get there just after ya figure ya went too far.

I enjoyed this blog. I was never quite sure how to identify my beliefs until someone told me I was a Jeffersonian Deist. After some research, I suppose that is mostly accurate. If there is an intelligent design, it makes sense to me that the intelligence would create the 'system" and it becomes our job to explore and discover how to fit into it. I believe that Jesus brought us the Operating Manual an operating system to help us understand how to work within the "system" to achieve a happy, meaningful and purposeful life. It's funny, because my wife is the polar opposite.…

いいね!

Bob Martin
Bob Martin
1月02日

Luck is the intersection of preparedness and opportunity—Vince Lombardi

いいね!

Melissa Meyer
Melissa Meyer
1月01日

My 2023 word of the year was Grace (and I always added: Grace for **ourselves** and for others). For 2024 I chose Diversity (not just of race, religion, gender, etc) but Diversity of thought and opinions and the concept of healthy disagreement through our Diversity).


I am Ordained Elder in the PCUSA. The PCUSA has hurt me numerous times but I kept going back. I was thinking about leaving when I came across your September post. I think I was among the first dozen or so to comment and I wrote what I hope was a supportive post. Then I watched in horror as the PCUSA Pastors and other "Christians" skewered you. I watched in horror as a Presbytery of…


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返信先

This fits my insight that religious knowledge and sentiment doesn't make people better. It is simply instrumental in making good people better and bad people worse.

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