Traditionally, the beginning of the new year marks not only celebrations (as though turning over a calendar page would somehow automatically and actually be a new and fresh beginning), but also the making of resolutions. And in fact, were we to make good resolutions and carry them out, we would at least be making a new and fresh beginning for ourselves. That’s not a bad place to start.
The tragedy of these resolutions is that they simply don’t last: they don’t take root, usually, in our lives. I may say that I will eat and drink less, exercise more, be more generous to various charities, less impatient with my kids… And for all the good intentions I might have when these resolutions are made, too often they are forgotten by the middle of January (if they lasted that long).
Sometimes resolutions are problematic because they are too generic. I might be proud of making a resolution “to be better this year”—until I realize that I haven’t sorted out the answers to questions like “Better than what?” or “How much better, and how will I measure that?” A good example of this was in a recent Baby Blues comic, where older sister Zoe is making her resolutions: “I resolve to treat [younger brother] Hammie nicer than I did last year.” As her Dad observes that this “sets a pretty low bar,” she comments, “One less tattle ought to do it.” Yes, we need to measure, but hopefully with more integrity…
Perhaps our resolutions are unrealistic (the result of over-imbibing on New Year’s Eve??)—I might want to resolve to run a marathon or enter a triathlon this year; lose 30 pounds by Easter; switch to a vegan diet; shoot my age on a golf course. But those goals will simply never be reached—I might as well wish I could flap my arms and fly to the moon.
What should we do, then, for resolutions? Perhaps step one is to take honest stock of who and what we actually are. All of us have areas of our lives that are strong and decent; we also have parts of ourselves that are weak and disappointing—to others and to ourselves. What are they? Then from this honest list perhaps we could pick one area to concentrate on. It might be wise, too, to enlist a trusted friend to hold us accountable (this, by the way, is the great value of our availing ourselves regularly of the Sacrament of Reconciliation). And can we actually track our progress and lapses on a daily basis? This is the great value of what St Ignatius Loyola called “consciousness examen” (NOT the same as an examination of conscience). It allows us to come to know ourselves (as Socrates insisted when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living), to chart our growth, to understand where and why we might falter, and what remedies there might be for those slip-ups.
This is a process of modesty: we won’t think about changing our entire being: we’ll look at only one area (at a time). We’ll be consistent in that area and will have the humility to ask others to help us. And who knows? By this time next year we might be ready to move on to another dimension of our hearts and souls that can be invigorated. That will really make this a NEW year!