As we begin the new year, I am sure many of us would ask this basic question, “What will this year be like? Will it be any different from last year or the previous years?”

Most, if not all of us, would hope for a “better” year, whether that means one that moves us closer to our aspirations of a more happy and fulfilling life, or one that will, at least, minimise the obstacles towards attaining this.

While this may be logical enough, we cannot assume that everyone knows how to go about realising this. Hopefully, this reflection can be of some help.

I suppose it is fair to say that there are three ways people might summarise their reflection on the past year.

First, there are those who might say, “2018 was a very good year: I had a very hectic year at work, but it paid off when I was promoted with a big bonus. My children did very well in school and I am generally healthy. I still go to church with my family and we had a good vacation together.”

Second, there are some who might say, “2018 was a very difficult year: I was retrenched, I have debts, and as a family we quarrelled often. Worst of all, my wife is diagnosed with second-stage cancer and she is angry with God.”

Third, there are some who might say, “2018 was basically like other years. My work and family life were somewhat routine. Everything seemed okay.”

Reflecting on our past years, if we were in the habit of writing new year’s resolutions, we would, in all probability, not have found them helpful. Even as we tried hard to “do better”, there seems to have been little progress as we ended each year with the sense that the past year was no different from previous years.

While it is important that we strive to do better in the various aspects of our lives – financial, health, family, career, friends and the like – the reality that every person has to face is that we are each finite and fragile creatures. We can do very little for ourselves let alone change others – whether it is a child who has decided to stop going to church, or a spouse that has become increasingly impatient and angry, or the hurts we continue to endure from the people we love.

Let us first admit and accept the reality that we are finite and fragile, often easily hurt by people and falling repeatedly into helpless situations. Once we accept this, we can then change our perceptions of people and situations.

One of the main reasons why we are not able to find deeper meaning, direction and fulfilment in our lives is because we have been over-focusing on our own “needs and interests” and thus forgetting the bigger reality of God in our lives.

As such, I would like to propose that we reflect on 2018 or earlier by asking ourselves, “How has God been part of my life? When, where and how, for example, did God protect me from losing my job, prevent the near disaster of my divorce, grant me a sudden change of heart that enabled healing to take place, enlighten me on how to approach my financial needs, lead me to attend the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) that turned my life around, and strengthen me to carry my crosses instead of complaining and getting angry with Him for my unmet needs and wants.”

If we reflect on and review 2018 with spiritual eyes by asking how God has been and is continuing to be actively present in our lives, loving and caring for us in all situations, challenging us to grow in our relationship with Him, without doubt, our hearts will be filled with deep gratitude for God in spite of the painful challenges we faced.

We will also surely be more joyous because we will realise how truly blessed we are to have a God who loves us so totally, unconditionally, mercifully and compassionately every moment of our lives.

If we have such a perspective on life, 2019 and the coming years will surely be more meaningful, more purposeful and more fulfilling, as we realise that our deepest joy can only come from living a life that reflects our most authentic identity as God’s children for God’s greater glory. 

Msgr Heng is Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.