Gary Jansen was recently struck by the thought of his own mortality. The husband and father of two sons suddenly asked himself, “What if I’m not here next year?”
Gary decided he wanted to leave behind a legacy for his kids, so he began writing a book of lessons that they could apply to their lives. Then he realized these lessons, grounded in the Ignatian idea of finding God in all things, could benefit adults as well. As a result, he titled his latest book “MicroShifts: Transforming Your Life One Step At a Time” in order to help readers change their lives for the better in ways that will actually last.
As Gary said during a “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), the concept of “Micro” shifts is particularly important to him because he knows from experience that “making small changes in the way that you live, pray, communicate with people, and communicate with God can, over time, have big, powerful results.”
Sometimes this involves a change in habit, but it can also mean a change in perception. For instance, Gary gained a new view of the connection between our bodies and souls after facing a challenging period several years ago. “For a long time,” he recalled, “I thought I was going through a very bad depression. I was struggling through work, struggling through life, struggling through my relationships. I got so tired one day that I actually fell asleep and got eight hours of sleep. Before that I was getting four and a half, five maybe.”
Gary woke up the next morning feeling like a new man. He was more energetic and hopeful than he had been in a long time. His body’s weariness, he realized, had affected his mind and soul, so he began paying more attention to the small changes he could make in his life that could make a big impact. Now, he encourages others to take advantage of what he calls “the power of one percent.”
He explains, “We may come from different socioeconomic backgrounds or different parts of the world, but each of us has 24 hours a day: 1,440 minutes…What if you just took one percent of your day – that’s 14 minutes and 24 seconds? Can you set aside 15 minutes of dedicated time to pray to God in a new way? Can you spend that 15 minutes with your spouse or your friend? Can you exercise for 15 minutes a day?…The one percent rule is something I use every day. Can I become one percent closer to God? Can I become one percent more aware of the people around me? So it’s one of those things that, over time, compounds and has been transformative for me.”
Another major player in Gary’s approach to MicroShifts is St. Ignatius Loyola and his spirituality that searches for God in all things. Gary said, “That teaching creates a sense of wonder in our lives. If there was garbage on the street, St. Ignatius would say, ‘Where’s God in the garbage?’ We can find God in sunsets, in flowers, in times when we feel in love with people and the work that we’re doing. But what about those times we’re going through the garbage of life? How do we find God in that? Once I started reading Ignatius and embracing the Ignatian spirituality of trying to find God in all the good stuff, and all the bad stuff too, that was transformative.”
Much of Gary’s vision stems from the “the uniqueness of life” and the fact that out of the seven billion people in the world, each of us is a unique individual in “this great mosaic of God’s creation.”
He also shares a quote from Mr. Rogers that reflects this idea. Rogers said, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet, how important you could be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
It’s not easy to take such a transcendent view of everyday life, but Gary once had an encounter with a homeless man that brought this truth to life. This man is seen as “the town drunk” and often gets aggressive with people, getting up into their faces. He approached Gary for money, but Gary didn’t have any so he began to move away. Then he noticed the homeless man’s eyes and had a vision of sorts.
Gary said, “I had this vision of him as a little boy. I don’t know what happened to him since then, but at some point his mom gave birth to him, his mom held him or a nurse held him and showed him love. Maybe he was a kid that felt ostracized. Maybe he was in a really bad situation at home. Once I started trying to say, ‘What if that was me?’…there was…this change in perception. Everybody out there – no matter how annoying, no matter how crazy – was at one point a child and there was a lot of hope there. And at some point something changed. I think God calls us to compassion…I’m not asking you to be a doormat to people. But at the same time there’s an opportunity to take a step back and live with compassion. One of the ways to do that is to imagine this person was a child at some point, and to uplift that and value that.”
In addition to writing “MicroShifts,” Gary also edited a book by Pope Francis called “Ave Maria: The Mystery of a Most Beloved Prayer,” which examines the “Hail, Mary” line by line. Gary loves the pope’s ability to take lofty ideals and make them accessible to ordinary people. He’s also happy that he can allow modern readers a way to relate to Jesus’ mother.
Gary says, “A lot of times when I pray the Rosary, [I picture] Mary sitting next to me going through a scrapbook of her son’s life. She’s like, ‘This is a picture when I found out that I was going to have a baby. It’s a wild story.’ And she’s like, ‘This is the night when Jesus was born. You’re not going to believe who showed up.’ And then she goes through the entire history of Jesus. So one of the things that’s so great about this book, but also in praying with Mary, is that you have someone who’s a lot like us, and having that opportunity to engage with her through your imagination.”
Ultimately, whether you read “MicroShifts” or “Ave Maria,” they both have something to say about the power and necessity of strong relationships, be it with Jesus and Mary or the people in our lives. So it’s appropriate that one of the dedications in “MicroShifts” goes to Gary’s sister Maryanne.
He concludes, “My youngest sister is named Annie, and she has severe autism to the point where she really can’t communicate. My sister Maryanne has spent her life being her caregiver. She and my mom, their lives essentially revolved around taking care of my sister. So when I wrote in the book that true success is about doing for others, not necessarily doing for yourself, I was thinking about Maryanne because you see that the people around you who give their lives for another are existing and living on a different plane. But at the same time, it’s hard work and it’s a struggle. She struggles and she has difficulties. As much as this book was written for my sons to leave behind something for them, I always wanted to dedicate it to Maryanne to say, ‘Hey, you know what? You are appreciated.'”
(To listen to my full interview with Gary Jansen, click on the podcast below):