The Gift of January Failures

The Gift of January Failures[1]

(Prayer resource – the “New Year Examen” – at the bottom of this reflection)


This year, I decided to make no New Year’s resolutions. I tend not to make many, anyway. Instead, I resolve primarily to follow Christ more fully and love more faithfully—and not so much to do this or that with each year’s arrival. (I do want to get to the gym or into the woods more because my body cries out for movement. And I do want to receive the gift of Matthew 11:28-30 more deeply again this year. Learn to live freely and lightly? Oh yes, please! But, I hesitate to call these “resolutions.”)

Even without a list of (failed) resolutions, I experienced disappointment for much of January. Let me count the ways.

  • Several years ago, I began a new rhythm of silent retreats at the turn of each year—whether at a retreat center or a “stay-treat” at home (i.e., a personal silent retreat shared in supportive space with my dear hubby, David)—to reflect on the past year’s graces and to ponder God’s invitations and leadings for the new year. For 2024, I managed to do neither because David and I were sick for about 3 weeks. (David got sick right after Christmas for about a week and then I got sick with strep throat for almost 2 weeks.) I’m still wondering how I might capture the grace of this missed window of opportunity.
  • I was very sad to miss the 12 Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5). Being sick meant that I had little energy to extend the joy of Christmas to January 6 (Epiphany), a relatively new and delightful practice for me. This also meant that my longing to light Epiphany luminaries around the neighborhood and host an Epiphany gathering had to be postponed—maybe until 2025! (I’m still hanging on, though—leaving our Christmas tree up a bit longer so that I can ponder the gracious invitations from God that remain to be opened.)
  • A church community we have been visiting hosted “21 days of prayer and fasting” for the new year. I was eager to join in, and David and I decided on intermittent fasting. On the third day, however, I felt the Spirit (or my hunger pangs? I don’t know!) nudging me to eat breakfast so that I wouldn’t weaken my already sick and frail frame. It seemed God was saying to me, “Fast from that which will harm you, dear Bo”. This felt life-giving the first few days, but could have turned into an easy excuse for having a less focused prayer life and a bland beginning to 2024.

I rejoice in this sad start to 2024 because God’s mercies are new each morning and I can start each day afresh. New year’s hopes don’t depend on my resolve, grit, or success, but on God’s abundant generosity and tender kindness.

During Advent, when I enjoyed morning sunrises off of Lake Carnegie, I never knew what colors would light up the sky. God was ready to surprise me each morning.

So too, flawed beginnings can open up new expectation. And grace upon grace. Going from strength to strength means we might experience valleys in the middle. But those dips, however long, are never the end of the story.

And so, as February begins, I am grateful to share this annual examen reflection with you. You can use this guide at the beginning of a new year, a new season, and even on a monthly/weekly basis. My contemplative listening circle has used this examen on our annual summer retreats to reflect on our “year-in-review” with one another—and profound insights have emerged from these times of intentional reflection. (If you do use this in 2024 and find encouragement from it, please feel free to email me and let me know! The gift multiplies when it is shared.)

I pray that you may be encouraged as 2024 progresses. Hallelu for mercies new each day, not only each new year!

I hope to see you at some of our events in 2024. We are preparing various spiritual feasts for you, our CCL family members and hope that you’ll join us for nourishment, encouragement, and joy! We love being connected to you and hearing what God is stirring in your hearts.

Warmest wishes for 2024,

P.S. I’ve decided on a two-day stay-treat in early February, which is a great start to 2024, after all!

P.P.S. For a more elaborate version of the annual examen, click here or here. This version offers videos to go along with the word prompts, if helpful. I also enjoyed praying through this offering the other day!

[1] I almost called this reflection “The Grace of #JanuaryFAILS” – inspired by this fun clip from The Tonight Show!

Bo Karen Lee, ThM ’99, PhD ’07, is associate professor of spiritual theology and Christian formation at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her book, Sacrifice and Delight in the Mystical Theologies of Anna Maria van Schurman and Madame Jeanne Guyon, argues that surrender of self to God can lead to the deepest joy in God. She has recently completed a volume, The Soul of Higher Education, which explores contemplative pedagogies and research strategies. A recipient of the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise, she gave a series of international lectures that included the topic, “The Face of the Other: An Ethic of Delight.” Professor Lee recently completed her term as President of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, and is on the editorial board of the journal, Spiritus. In December 2022, Professor Lee launched the Center for Contemplative Leadership at Princeton Seminary, which she serves as its Founder and Director (and recent conference organizer exploring “Prayer as Resistance”). Full bio.
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