We are coming to that time when we'll make that big New Year's resolution. Often times we don't think through the price or the consequences of resolutions said in haste. The result is that we usually are disappointed with ourselves and feel further behind than we had prior to starting out.
There's nothing wrong with making resolutions on January 1st, as many times the turn of the new year offers us a fresh opportunity to make changes. In this brief article I hope to provide you with some helpful tips on making holy, productive and life-changing resolutions that are healthy for you and those around you and that keep eternity in mind.
One of the big mistakes that we make when we make New Year's resolutions is that we cut away the branches, when the root is really the problem. For example, the person who makes a New Year's resolution to lose 25 pounds oftentimes is missing the real problem of gluttony. Rather than making the resolution to lose 25 pounds, a better resolution may be to pray before every meal and ask God for the strength to eat moderately and to see your eating as a way of giving God thanks.
A great exercise to go through prior to making resolutions is to take the time to assess your weaknesses and strengths. Many times we learn about our weaknesses by reviewing our confession record or reflecting on the spiritual direction we have received in the prior year. What are the areas that you are really struggling in? What vices seem to keep you captive and hinder you from living that life in Christ that you really desire? There are many good resources you can find, in book form and on the web, to help you combat vice with the corresponding virtue.
Another thing that's good to keep in mind is that grace builds upon nature. When it comes to making New Year's resolutions, we all have a tendency to focus on nature, that is, the physical hurdles and goals before us. But keep in mind that our "physical" lives are not separate from our "spiritual" lives, in fact they are one. To attempt to do something about our physical reality without addressing the spiritual dimension is only addressing half the equation.
In the end, we must admit that life can be a struggle and that the person we want to be does not come without a price. That desire to change and become more like Christ was put in your heart by God. I truly believe that the desire to make a New Year's resolution is in truth, the desire to become more like Christ. Christ is wooing us, drawing us to be conformed to His image. The decision we make on January 1st can become a prayer to God that comes from the depths of our heart in response to His desire to change us. Without grace, which is the life of the Trinity, change is even more difficult, so start by turning your heart and mind to God to determine what changes are necessary.
Below are eight questions that can act as a guide in making a good New Year's resolution. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will this resolution draw me toward Christ or away from Him? Sometimes our goals become self-centered and tend to draw us away from Christ and onto our own agenda. Keep a holy card or crucifix with you when you consider a New Year's resolution.
2. Will this resolution enhance my vocation in life? In other words, will it help me as a parent, spouse, single person, priest, or religious? Starting with your vocation is a great place to determine future action. For example, if you are a father some of your decisions are already made. Becoming a better father is something that you know God wants you to do, even more than fitting into that pair of pants in your closet.
3. Does this resolution have eternal impact on my life and those around me? The decisions that we make today have eternal impact, so it becomes important to budget your time and resources accordingly.
4. Have I prayed about it and asked God to lead me in my decisions? James 4:15 says that our future decisions should keep in mind the phrase, “if it is the Lord's will.” We must always qualify our plans with this phrase as sometimes it may be the will of the Lord for us to accomplish a certain thing, but we may be off when it comes to the timing.
5. Will this resolution take time and resources away from those around me who really depend upon me? We only have so many hours in a day and so many dollars in the bank, so it becomes very important to ask ourselves if the main things in our lives are being taken care of or neglected? If you have a family, it's a good idea to consult your spouse if you are about to allocate funds or time for your special project.
6. Am I prepared to accompany my resolution with prayer and fortitude? The prophet Zechariah once said, “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Simply making the resolution will not bring about the desired results, rather, fortitude and a constant reliance upon the spirit of God is what brings about the victory in our lives. Ask yourself if you are prepared to soak this change in your life with daily prayer.
7. Am I prepared to sacrifice and offer up that which is uncomfortable in order to attain my resolution? Whether it be in sports or in the spiritual life, becoming good at something does not come without practice and sacrifice. As “location” is the key to real estate, so practice is the key to the virtuous life. Change comes by habitually practicing the good.
8. Does this resolution further your walk with Christ and glorify the Lord or does vanity compel you? It's a wonderful thing to be physically fit, but if being fit is for the purpose of getting noticed, then your heart is in the wrong place. Become fit so that you can be a more effective witness for Christ. Remember all those times you said, "I'm too tired to do (fill in the blank)?
My prayer for you this year is that your New Year's resolution will not be simply wishful thinking, but will be Christ centered desires, followed by action and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.