This is my latest “Finding Faith in Everyday Life” column from our diocesan paper:

The calendar year may begin in January, but for me, the year starts anew late each August. The sun has started to change her course and the evenings are starting to cool. The corn fields are fences around us and the sunsets are brilliant and orange.

And then there are the school supplies. There’s something about those aisles of pencils and markers and blank notebooks that beckon me, every year, to something more.

Maybe it touches the inner student in me, reminding me of the fun of school and the appeal of adventures yet to come. Maybe it hearkens to the hope of a schedule in my life and the excitement of a clean slate.

As I zip through the stores, trying to make sure I have the right folders and plenty of extra notebooks, it’s the boxes of plain yellow pencils that make me stop to ponder.

They are stacked, looking delightfully old-fashioned next to their mechanical brethren. They’re rather plain, in cardboard boxes.

I am an unsharpened pencil. Not so long ago, I began my Catholic journey under the tutelage of a wise priest with my devoted beau hand-in-hand with me. It’s all too easy, once I find myself understanding something new about my faith, to think that I’m better than those around me.

It’s all too easy to give in to the hypocrisy that my God is better than your God, that my knowledge is more complete than your knowledge, that my Church is better than your Church. It’s all too easy to turn right into a Pharisee.

Once I am sharpened, however briefly, there is always the reminder of humility and service. I might be at the top of my game, knowing it all and sailing through life, when a long algebra assignment hits, forcing me to calculate and use all my sharpness and most of my eraser, too.

It is only a visit to the Sharpener, through Mass or Adoration or Confession or a combination of all three, that can get my point back.

I don’t always realize I need sharpened, though. I don’t always listen to the scratch of lead on paper, feel the extra tug of dull lead, see the wider mark I make.

That box of plain yellow pencils speaks to me of the potential within all of us and of all God must intend for us. Those pencils could be the instrument for all sorts of brilliance. They shout to me of what I could be and what I could encourage others to be.

They also inspire work from me, work of a sort that I can only do at the beginning of a project, when my heart is still in it and my pencil is still sharp.

A pencil is no good until it’s sharpened. I’m reminded, even as I think of all I can do with that unsharpened pencil, of just what sharpening involves. It’s giving up my selfish inclinations and remembering that I am the tool, not the finished product. It’s a reminder that I’m not aiming for anything of this world, but that I’m on a journey to become a saint.

I have a hard time remembering I’m only the instrument. I think of all a pencil can do and I forget that someone else has to use the pencil first.

Who is using me? Am I letting the right force sharpen me, guide me, write with me? How can I step back and let the masterpiece flow from His hands through my sharpened point?

I found this image at GiveawayScout, and it made me smile, because a good friend just introduced me to the awesomeness known as Ticonderoga pencils.