“God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” – Gal 4:6-7

Some simple choices have significant impact. What I choose to wear or how to comb my hair may be inconsequential. Choosing to speak truthfully or to act lovingly has greater effect on my life and on those around me. Choosing to be a child of God or grounding our identity on something else makes all the difference. I am realizing how this simple decision becomes decisive over time.

A woman approached me after Mass on Christmas Day in tears. She looked sad and joyful at the same time. She thanked me for celebrating Mass and giving the homily. When I asked her how she was helped, her reply was simple and striking: “Thank you for helping me realize that I am a child of God, not a failure, a victim, a lost soul.” What she said resonated with what I’ve realized throughout the past thirty years of accompanying tens of thousands of young adults and adults on retreats: when we choose to become a child of God, greater life and freedom flows; when we let ourselves be defined by other people and things, slavery ensues.

We look for our identity and fulfillment in goods like family, romantic partners, careers, lifestyles, religion, politics, cultural values, hero worship, social norms and media. We even cling to who we are through past traumas, numbing habits, drugs, sex, alcohol, other thrills, power and pleasures. Yet, none of these promised goods satisfy our longing for fulfilled living. Rather, they perpetuate numbing choices, coping mechanisms, and settling lifestyles.  

When Mary said “yes” to the angel’s announcement that she will bear God’s son, she struggled with how things will unfold. Her embrace of God’s dream for her life flowed from her choice to be a child of God. She trusted in the one who promises more than the what or the how of the promise. Paradoxically, in choosing to be a child of God, she became the mother of God. The Greek name given to Mary on this feast day is Theotokos, or literally, God-bearer. She was the first to give birth to God-with-us. Meister Eckhart boldly applies this challenge to be like Mary: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Inspired by today’s Gospel verse, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart,” I plan to cultivate a new habit. I hope to reflect on these two questions every day for the first month of 2019:

“Did I notice an opportunity to become a child of God today? How did I receive or miss it?”

What might this reflection look like for me, or for you? When I compare myself to other people, am I choosing to value myself to an exterior standard or to become the child of God that I already am? When I catch myself comparing (and often despairing) and humbly acknowledging the tendency give my worth elsewhere, I am renewing my “yes” to being a “child of God in the making.” When my sister tries to be patient to herself and to her grumpy tween daughter, she is choosing to see both of them as children of God, regardless of how successfully serene she is. When my Jesuit brother gives a community member the benefit of the doubt, he is embracing both as children of God. Or when he realizes that he’s judging himself as he finds himself falling short in this area, he can remind and accept himself as a child and not the Creator. Each day, we have many similar opportunities to become a child of God and to treat others with such dignity and light. For me, this is not a New Year’s resolution. It’s a daily act of faith to become more who I am, more like Christ.

In Jesus, we are not only children of God but heirs to an inheritance much richer and more meaningful than we can ever realize. Join me in this decisive decision of the New Year.