2016 was a year of extreme highs and devastating lows.  It was a time for new and exciting opportunities as well as painful goodbyes.  The sun shone brightly, but the wind howled bitterly, too.  2016 made me ask tough questions of humanity, of myself.  Why does evil seem to win at an alarming rate?  How could we let such atrocities happen?  What is my place in this often cruel world?  What can I do?  How can I help?

Reflecting on these questions that coursed through my mind and troubled my spirit this past year, I realize that most of us want to be a blessing to other people, but lack the time and resources to do so because we are overtasked and financially strained.  When disaster hits and injustice reigns, we want to respond but are crippled by a packed calendar and empty pockets.  Self-inflicted busyness.  I want to help, but I simply can’t.

If, like me, you find yourself trapped in a similar thought process, here are three steps to break free of this cycle of excuses, and not miss opportunities to be a blessing to others this new year.

1. Self-assess.

Take a moment to make a list of what occupies your time.  I realize that could be difficult.  Finding five minutes in your day to think through what requires (or perhaps steals) your attention might seem impossible, but that’s precisely why you need to do it.  Be honest.  How much time do you spend scrolling through Facebook or liking Instagram photos?  Do you find yourself constantly in the car, schlepping from one activity to another?  Has a daily routine become more of a daily grind because your “to do” list seems to grow and not wane?

Actually create a budget to see where your paycheck goes.  Again, be honest.  An afternoon stop at Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks for a cup of coffee once in a while adds up quickly.  While groceries are bought and weekly meals planned out, a stressful day at work leads to ordering in or going out for dinner instead.  I want to be generous.  I intended to, but… A mantra has turned into an excuse.

2. Self-reflect.

What’s most important to you? If time and money were no object, what would you do? Where would you donate the most money if you could? Which newspaper headlines stir your soul? What drives you? Give yourself permission to dream.

3. Self-motivate.

The only thing holding you back is you.  Make the decision to do what you find most important and carve out the time to do it.  Will this require sacrifice?  Absolutely.  You might have to say “no” to some seemingly good things.  Other decisions won’t be as difficult, you simply have to follow through.  Take time to cut out the bad, the toxic, the meaningless, the “this started out as a good idea, but my heart isn’t in it anymore.”  Purge not just possessions this year, but habits and routines that don’t fit who you want to be, where you hope to see yourself, and what matters most to you.  For me, that means cutting back on social media.  If I say I want to care about people, then I need to choose them, actual flesh and blood beings, and not filtered images of such.  I must choose to be present in the moment, to make memories, not perfectly crafted posts.

No one is denying that 2016 was rough.  It rocked many to the core, but in that shake up clarity could ensue.  What once seemed important was given permission to fade, as perspectives shifted and priorities changed.  Perhaps at the end of this year, you find yourself wading through the chasm where intention and reality struggle to meet.  Press on, for in that struggle true introspection can occur and life-giving choices can be made.  In 2017, choose to be present, to care, and to respond.  Choose to be a blessing, because when you choose to diminish the suffering of others, you just might find healing, as well.