I will work out more.
I will read Scripture every day.
I will stop at two glasses of wine.
I will yell less.
I will lose ten or seventy pounds.
I will be nicer to the people I love.
I will stay off social media.
The year is coming to a close, and as we look ahead, many of us are making our annual list of resolutions. Whether our New Year’s Resolutions are kept private or shared with friends (not for notoriety but accountability, of course), we make them each year, again and again. We vow to read the Bible in a year, to swear off the sodas, to run more, to eat more vegetables, to remember to make our bed every day and give into less screen time. The list goes on. But come February 1, have we progressed in our resolutions or just given up?
Why do we continue the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions when sticking to them is so rare? Are we being too rash or too random in our declarations? Maybe.
So how might we make promises to ourselves that we can actually keep, instead of setting ourselves up for failure?
Making plans for the future must include a look back. Whatever you learned from 2020 should help to orient your goals for 2021. Looking back on this whirlwind of a year may be painful, but it also revealed a lot about each of us. Among other things, we found out how deeply we need each other, how valuable it is to spend time with the ones we love, and the many areas in our social framework that need to be ordered to the human person. How has that impacted my resolutions? I’ve vowed to reach out to loved ones with more than just a text or a social media DM. I’ve done the work of educating myself on how I’ve failed to uphold the dignity of the human person in certain areas of my life and how to mindfully improve by reading more books and watching more talks than I ever thought I would.
What did you learn from 2020 about yourselves or those around you? How can those lessons impact how you will approach 2021?
In addition to looking back, we must also look forward to more than just the year ahead. The human person is naturally striving for perfection, and all should be ordered to this end, even in our resolutions. This doesn’t reduce the importance of going for a mile-long walk each day as opposed to reading the Catechism in a year, but it does presuppose that your resolutions are decided within the light of Christian perfection. A commitment to walk each day might not seem like an answer to the call to holiness at first, but a walk each day could give the opportunity to think of others in prayer, or to get in touch with our gratitude for the things we forget to be thankful for; it could be the chance to be a good steward of the body given to you, which can only help improve your future health; it could reacquaint you with your neighbors, which can lead to friendlier, more supportive days ahead. As you consider your resolutions, place them in this necessary light, asking the same question that you should ask of all action: “How is this ordered to my Christian perfection?” How does my resolution help close the past and open up the future to me?
Invite Christ Into Your Discernment
The tasks of your day-to-day life are filled with God longing for your resolve to discover him. They are not distractions from the “real work” of self-improvement but in fact instead are the real work of the spiritual life. Resolutions are not necessarily found within the extraordinary but in realizing that the ordinary has been a means for perfection all along.
So, for 2021, invite Jesus into your resolution discernment. Who knows what you truly need to do better than Christ, who is always faithful, and who knows the plans God has for you? Who looked with love on the young man who had kept all of the commandments, and clearly told him the one thing he still had to do (Mark 10:19-22)? In that Gospel, we read that the young man’s face fell, and he walked away. Many biblical scholars believe that this young man shows up later, in the Acts of the Apostles, as John Mark, whose first failure did not preclude continual work toward perfection in Christ.
Don’t Stop Trying
The truth of the matter is this. It is not the resolutions themselves to which we hope. We write our resolutions with a desire to become better. We want to be better friends, spouses, and parents, better workers and better creators, better persons and better Christians. We desire to become the best versions of ourselves. But to be resolute in something requires the determination to pursue even after we fail and for that hope to be grounded in something other than ourselves. Even the desire to become the best version of oneself is ultimately to become a better servant to others. A physically stronger you is a more self-reliant you, a more supportive you. A spiritually stronger you is a more spiritually generous you. A you that can keep trying even when it seems like the February Failures are flourishing is a more stable (thus stabilizing) you. And remember, you’ve invited God into this effort. Call on Christ. Call on the saints. Ask for help and help will come.
You may be asking, “What if these resolutions are the same resolutions I made last year?” The monotony of deciding to do (or not do) something over and over again can seem like an invitation to failure, but within the monotony is where we discover the will and the self-mastery needed to govern who we are and who we desire to be.
In R.J. Snell’s Acedia and Its Discontents, he writes, “We become the people we are by what we choose to do again.” Your list of resolutions may include the same resolutions that you’ve made in years past or even be a repeat of Lenten or Advent promises, but the choosing to do them again can and will mold you into that which you wish to be if you will allow it.
Wherever you determine the best place for your resolve in 2021, may it be seen in the light of Christian perfection, of lessons you’ve learned this past year, and toward the future of your ordinary life. You cannot resolve to become an Olympic gymnast this year if you’ve never done gymnastics and have no time to learn. But you can allow yourself to be trained to your best life. Remember Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
You can do this, but not without Christ. Be resolute in beginning always with him, and the rest will be done through your reliance on his strength.