Somehow it always struck me a little funny that (after the enjoyment of Christmas as a season of self-indulgence) New Year’s always arrives with people making a flurry of New Year’s resolutions. These are generally directed toward the area of self-improvement. So, most of us begin the New Year with the resolution to lose 5 pounds, quit smoking, exercise more and drink less.
Did you ever try to buy a piece of exercise equipment before Christmas? Usually you can’t find it, but just wait until January…
In liturgical terms, it would be as though Advent came after Christmas. The Church spends the four weeks before Christmas getting ready, through the focus on Advent. The world spends the several weeks after Christmas on a message of austerity and deprivation. If that’s not irony, I’m not sure what is!
Making resolutions, taking stock, and self assessment are generally not bad things for any of us. From time to time, it is a good idea. But to avoid turning our making resolutions into a destructive exercise, it is generally a good idea to:
- Make your resolution in baby steps. That’s to say, something that you can actually accomplish in the short range. Better to resolve, “Today, I’ll refrain from mid-meal snacks,” rather than “I resolve to lose 5 pounds”– because you probably can achieve the first one on a day-to-day basis, whereas the other is a long-range goal. Having the longer range goal is important, but you will be more encouraged to make it by taking small steps that are achievable, rather than big, unachievable promises that ring empty (and which discourage in the long run).
- Understand that the basic human condition is recidivism. Recidivism is the human tendency to relapse into a previous tendency or behavior. How many times did you fall off that bike when you were a child (and scraped your knee), before you learned how to ride? Well, you had to learn to pick yourself up off the sidewalk, pick up the bike, and get back on… before you learned how to ride. The same thing is true with resolutions. The ancient spiritual fathers taught that the whole point was to teach us something about God’s Grace and forgiveness and overcoming discouragement. Go into it realizing that you may have to begin again, and again, and yet again.
New Year’s resolutions can be a wonderful thing. But use them constructively, not destructively. And realize this: God is far more gracious towards you than you may be towards yourself!