"The Grace to Race" and other Books Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Do you have a New Year’s resolution, or more than one?
When I put this question out on the blog last week and the Facebook page for the Catholic Post, an assortment of worthy goals were listed, from physical goals, such as eating better or exercising more; organizing goals; relationship goals such as having more family time; and financial goals.  Three new books offer interesting possibilities to help nearly anyone begin to tackle the challenges of a new year.

*The Grace to Raceby Sister Madonna Buder, is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in recent years.  The lengthy subtitle tells the story:  The Wisdom & Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun.

I was a wee bit put off by that “concept,” too–until I started reading and couldn’t put it down.

Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.

Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life.  Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:

“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts.  My Irishman!  Monsignor Doheny!  My European adventures!  The past, the present, the future!  What was God really asking of me?  Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’  The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine.  My true longing was becoming clear.”

Based on her active lifestyle through her early life, it doesn’t surprise to see Sister Madonna to take up running at age 48, begin running marathons and then racing triathlons (including the punishing full-length Ironman triathlons) through her 80s.      What is surprising is how well she shows how running has enhanced and aided her vocation and her prayer life:

“All I knew at the time was that I was running on faith, and I prayed while I ran.  Afterwards, I realized it was a different kind of prayer posture.  Besides using my heart and head, when I ran my whole body was involved in the petitioning.”

For those looking for a little personal motivation, Sister Madonna gives tips and ideas for getting or staying active, but her story itself in inspiration enough.

*Is personal or home organization among your top goals for the new year?  Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser is a super-encouraging, practical book that helps moms streamline home management and family organization.

Kiser presents her approach not just for the sake of a sparkling house or well-groomed family, but chiefly so that family members can be more “present” to one another and others, just as Mary was “present” when Jesus visited the home of Mary & Martha in Bethany.

A busy mom of nine, Kiser culls tips from her “Smart Martha” seminars to give a boost to moms who feel drowning in school schedules and home management.  What I love best about Smart Martha is the reminders that your way may be different, but just as good, rather than a “one size fits all” approach too common in home organizing books.

One feature I found especially helpful was her take on the 7 Habits time management skill of  “sharpening the saw,” originally all about balance and taking breaks to increase efficiency.  Kiser adds to that definition that moms should take the time to rethink routines, schedules, or even rooms, in order to be more efficient and have more time for one another in the family and in the world.

*With all the depressing financial news, it’s no surprise to see that Merriam-Webster decreed“austerity” as Word of the Year (WOTY).

(That’s not quite as much fun as the Oxford English Dictionary’s WOTY:  refudiate; but that’s for another column.)

Financial goals can be both a worthy goal and a significant challenge.   An intriguing new book, Why Enough is Never Enough:  Overcoming Worries about Money-A Catholic Perspective by Gregory S. Jeffrey, proposes that much of our worry and insecurity about money lies in two areas: a lack of trust in God, and a lack of generosity.

Each chapter ends with reflection questions that Jeffrey suggests people write out and talk over with a “money partner:” a spouse or trusted friend.  Overall, the reflection questions and indeed the whole book, are designed to foster in readers hearts that are “radically generous” and trusting in God for all good.

My main concern about Why Enough is Never Enough is the fear some readers might take away that the only cause of money troubles or money worries is spiritual; that somehow prayer, the sacraments and trust in God is all that is required to be a good financial steward.  In its defense, that really isn’t the book’s only message, but based on the title and some of the content, readers could be misled.

I wish the book had given more strategies that people can do to economize, or save more, or make wise financial decisions.  These might not fall into the category of a “spiritual” or “Catholic” approach, but can still help people meet their financial goals and be more at peace with money.

Also consider:

*Once you’ve been inspired by Sister Madonna Buder’s triathlons, consider The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes.  Bowes outlines a sensible, easy approach to interval training (for people of any physical or spiritual level) using the prayers of the Rosary.

 *A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot.  Pierlot proposes moms adapt St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to maintain rhythm and prayer in managing a family.
*7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money by Phil Lenahan is a well-respected newer classic (from 2007) with an online component for small group study.