It’s the start of a new year and a great time for a reflection on the old one and how to begin a fresh start in the new one. Are you someone who makes a lot of resolutions, or do you prefer to avoid them altogether?
If we’re honest, 2016 is going to be much like 2015, with the same joys, struggles, frustrations and celebrations that life throws at us every year. Even so, it is still a great thing to stop and think how we can do something about the things we struggle with in our lives. If you’re in the habit of making resolutions- or even if you loathe them!- here are six suggestions to help you on your way.
Instead of picking something completely foreign and new this year, why not concentrate on doing something you already should be doing anyway- and doing it well. Introducing something totally new can be a big change in your life and sometimes that is too daunting. Endeavouring to do something well that is already part of your routine is much more attainable. Reflect on your day and see if there is something that you do half-heartedly and resolve to try and put more effort or joy into it.
Do you know the two things more powerful than willpower?! God’s grace and help from your friends. Resolve to have support in your resolution. If you are trying to improve a spiritual situation, this might mean engaging the help of a spiritual director or trying to make more time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All the while our struggles and temptations remain in the dark, we can never ‘fix’ them on our own. You could also ask a friend for help and support, or just to be a listening ear. Asking for help is good. Allowing others to help you is even better! Remember that Christ said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and “With God, all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)
An alternative way of approaching a New Year’s Resolution (because we rarely wish to let others down) is to see if you can support someone else in something new they want to begin that year. Maybe you have a friend who has always longed to start a new sport or activity but hasn’t had the confidence to do it alone. Maybe there is a house-bound parishioner who would love to get out more and see some more of the world. Or maybe you could think of those who have had to flee their homes, jobs and studies due to war. Through the power of prayer you could support them, and resolve to offer up the sometimes monotonous , routine things in your life for them.
If can be an attractive thought to begin the new year a whole new person, listing off the myriad of things we think aren’t right with ourselves and resolving to fix them all. But generally speaking, we aren’t going to manage to get up earlier, have an hours work out, be more patient on the school run, spend less time on our phones, cook healthier meals, pray more, be a nicer person… all of these things at once are going to be far too overwhelming. Even two or three things might be too much. So just pick one. And make a go of it and try to do it well. “Why are you in such a hurry? Go about your work slowly and peacefully, doing one thing at a time. You will make good progress.” (St Francis de Sales)
The problem with making resolutions and keeping them is that we so grimly do not want to fail. We white knuckle our way through things, expelling so much energy on the task, ashamed to even contemplate failure from the outset. Then we inevitably fail, feel very disappointed and never try again.
The other extreme of this is the mindset of ‘well I’m going to fail anyway, so what is the point in even trying?’ With this mindset we don’t even begin. Learn to walk the middle road between the two extremes. Imagine if you had the mindset of, “I might fail, and that will be disappointing, but I will pick myself up again and keep going however many times I must.” That is the mindset that helps us improve and makes positive changes in our life. (Find more tips on overcoming the Fear of Failure here.
Go with me here, because I know this is going to seem like a contradiction of everything I’ve said already, but this point is an invitation to reflect on this year’s Year of Mercy. Life isn’t a competition over who can be the better person. While it is good that we should want to improve ourselves, so much about New Year’s Resolutions is about making them, breaking them and feeling bad, trying to obtain the unobtainable standard of perfection that the world, media and our own social media expect. This year, why not reflect on the story of Martha and Mary? (Luke 10:38-42) Martha spent the time that she had with Jesus’ panicking about cooking and meal preparation while Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him. “Mary has taken the better part and that will not be taken away from her.” Jesus said. (Luke 10:42) This year, instead of striving to improve your fitness, eating habits or a vague idea of becoming a nicer person, instead, allow yourself to sink into the boundless mercy of the Father, who picks us up every time we fall. Accept that you are where you are at right now, aim to take one day at a time and live it calmly and reflect on Pope Francis’s words that:
“It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible”.
“Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.” Pope Benedict XVI
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