Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV)
For a 70-year-old, regular workouts at Gold’s Gym aren’t merely a constant physical battle between man and machine (with the machine holding a clear upper hand). Each session is a spiritual experience… a daily reminder of the inevitable decline of physical gifts… and at the same time, a triumph of human will in the moment. However, any such reverie can be disrupted, brought back to earth, by announcements over the PA system: “Attention staff! Shane, you have an appointment at the front desk….”
Subjectively, it seems the subject of those announcements changes each year about now. These days, you hear a lot of this: “Attention staff! Membership, you have a call on line one.”
People are signing up. Why? They’ve made New Year’s resolutions.
You and I, and the society we live in, are conflicted about this annual ritual. And well we should be. On the one hand, it helps to have regular occasions for deliberate reflection and recommitment to our nobler aspirations. There’s something exhilarating about setting grand goals, and taking the first steps to achieve them. That’s the good side.
But, as columnists constantly remind us, January’s commitment is all too often a distant (and failed) memory by February. What’s worse (and something we might not hear so often) is that the annual timing of new year’s resolutions, occurring on the heels of a holiday season when we’ve been stuffing ourselves at the dinner table and inactive and gaining weight, frequently leads to a focus on these two dimensions of our lives (diet and exercise), to the exclusion of everything else. And a year’s gym membership is often no more than a spouse’s answer to the thorny problem of “what to give?”
As a result, what we carry forward is only the growing self-awareness that we’re constantly falling short of our potential, and that includes making a mockery of our annual January commitments. Take it from me, that feels worse at age 70, after repeated defeats, than it does at 17 or 27.
Here’s the reality: It turns out that we’re only good at what we practice on a daily basis… and that goes for resolutions and resolve just like everything else. Cook an egg? Get dressed? Meet the responsibilities of a job? Navigate the commute to work? Tell the truth? Be generous? Care about others? Play with/engage the kids? Clean the apartment? We’re only comfortable with these things because we do them weekly, daily, frequently. They’re part of what defines us and our lives. We make them that way through a series of choices until they become ingrained habit.
But “habit” trivializes what our daily practices represent. They’ve been internalized over years to the point where the resolve to make them happen is no longer visibly evident. But they started out as resolutions, resolutions we didn’t make annually but daily.
That opens a new possibility: perhaps we can in the same way make resolve, and resolutions themselves, a habit – a more conscious part of that daily/weekly rhythm of our lives. Maybe we can unchain resolutions from the 24-hour window New Year’s Day prison into which we’ve boxed them and let them run free throughout the course of our year. After all, something like that is already going on. It takes resolve to get up early each day, get the family started, and then show up for work ourselves. All we need do is carry that resolve a bit further – extend it to what we hope to accomplish that day.
In that spirit, here’s a resolution you and I might hope to keep: let’s resolve to be more aware, on something like a daily basis, of the role that resolve is already playing in our lives. This might sound a little pointy-headed, or way too introspective at first. It might make you uncomfortable. But here’s what you’ll get from it, almost guaranteed. One is you’ll see that what you gloss over about your life, what you call routine, is almost chock-a-block full of resolve. That’ll make you more positive about your routine and about yourself. You’ll realize:
You’re a resolute person.
What a boost to the self-image! But over time, something even better will happen. This self awareness will open your mind. You’ll look at some time wasters or negatives in your routine and realize, hey! That’s a downer. And what’s worse, I make a daily effort to maintain that. I do that only because I actually resolve to stick to that bad habit or hurtful behavior. The moment I no longer resolve to do that… to commit time and exertion to it, I’ll stop. You’ll expand your understanding of the possibilities going forward… to give up, through daily resolution, what you find purely onerous in your life, and replace that with things, activities and people you find more satisfying.
Then you can add a second resolution: I resolve to do ____________________________ (fill in the blank) today. Don’t make your resolution cover any longer time horizon. Live in the moment. Tomorrow you can make a fresh decision… whether to extend that resolution a second day and/or replace it with a new one.
So far, we’ve couched the discussion in terms of what you want to do, or accomplish. But there’s every likelihood that what you actually do or accomplish is determined by outside factors and circumstances beyond your control. What we then carry forward is only the self-awareness that we’re falling short of our potential, and that includes failing to keep our commitments. Far better to commit yourself to who you want to be: Today I resolve to be __________________________ (fill in the blank). Loving. Truthful. Patient. Helpful. At peace. A listener. When we focus on who we want to be, the accomplishments will look after themselves. They’ll tend to fall into place over time.
The Apostle Paul, the author of the Corinthians verse above, later in the same letter says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV).
Whatever your and my faith persuasion, we can be open and aspire to the possibilities of daily being created anew in this way.
Happy New Year.