The New Year is almost here and once again, many of us are making resolutions that we hope will give us a fresh start and better habits.
The Desert fathers encourage us to have new beginnings: “Abba Poeman said regarding Abba Prin that every day he made a new beginning. ‘My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start'” (Arsenios, 5th century).
Unfortunately, we know from our own lives and from examining current statistics that fresh starts are much harder to enact than to envision. According to Forbes Magazine, only 8% of us actually keep our resolutions and experience some kind of lasting change.
What was so special about the 8% who did keep their resolutions? Forbes listed these steps for creating effective goals:
- Create simple, attainable goals that have an ending point
- Measure our progress as we enact practical steps towards our goals
- Accountability: make our goals obvious to ourselves and others in our lives
What kind of goals are you setting for the New Year? List three personal goals. Word your goals with an end point in mind, then consider the practical steps in achieving them and who might help you be accountable as you try to make this happen.
For example: I will exercise more is not a good goal, but I’ll exercise four times a week for forty five minutes each time is a good goal. You can measure whether the latter is achieved or not, on a weekly basis. You can set up a system to hold yourself accountable or get a friend to hold you accountable so it’s obvious if you did or did not exercise.
Yet so often even goals we want and carefully plan to achieve fail. We start off strong and then slowly slack off. Some of us fall into traps of listlessness, sloth, and even quiet despair after setting goals and then failing to achieve them.
This sloth and listlessness has a root cause in the sinful kind of self-love that prevents us from doing things that make us uncomfortable (oops, maybe that’s why my exercise plan fails so often) and even causes us to talk ourselves out of doing the very things that would make our lives better. For example we might think “If I were really meant to do this, everything would fall into place, so maybe I’m just not meant to do this.” Or we tell ourselves other sweet lies like, “It really isn’t that important for me to exercise today, I can do it tomorrow, or the next day.” This unhealthy self-love produces procrastination, discontent and laziness in our lives. We complain about stuff that we don’t try to fix, or maybe we convince ourselves that we’re really OK just the way we are.
We may see that well, maybe there are some adjustments that we need to make, so maybe we create New Year’s Resolutions, but then slide right back into failing to live up to our goals, and then continue complaining about it. But there’s hope for us:
Even if we fall a hundred times a day, it does not matter; we must get up and go on walking toward God without looking back.
– Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
The answer is to keep facing God. If we keep our eyes on Him through prayer, reading the scriptures, doing what is right in front of us, we’ll gain the strength to not only set better goals, but to accomplish them.
The Fathers have this to say of our resolutions:
“Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.”
– St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th century.
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:31
If we truly see God as present in all things, our faith will keep us from falling into the sloth and listlessness which causes so many of our failures.
The heart of our resolutions needs to be spiritual goals, because we are spiritual beings who need God’s help to achieve anything.
Here are some resources to help us create spiritual resolutions for 2016:
- Father Andrew Stephen Damick has compiled a list of 14 goals for us to consider, and every single one of them is something most of us can do such as: go to church, memorize a psalm, volunteer, sing in church (well, maybe quietly), encourage your priest….Follow this link to read Fr Damick’s goals and add some to your list of resolutions:
- Father George Morelli has written an article about creating and keeping spiritual resolutions and what gets in our way as we try to enact our goals.
- Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Casper, WY has collected sayings from the Desert Fathers to inspire us as we make and continue to keep our resolutions.
Family Life Ministry also has several resources to help you set and achieve your goals:
- Father Ken’s sermon inspires us with several practical ways we can resolve to keep walking towards God and grow our faith:
- Check out FLM’s One Good Thought. These posts are the first pages of what will be a Devotional Book created to help each of us have one good thought to strengthen us each day:
After checking out these resources, you should have a lot of good ideas for your own New Year’s Resolutions. Here are some steps to help you achieve them:
- Write them down
- Define your starting and ending point for each goal
- Pray for God’s help and mercy as you strive to move forward
- Leave one of your not too personal resolutions in the comment section of this article to inspire someone else and to make your goal obvious to yourself and others.
I know that’s scary, so I’ll go first:
- I really like Fr. Ken’s suggestion of reading the Bible in a year by reading seven minutes a day. That seems doable. I’ll make that a goal.
- I also like Fr Andrew’s goal of memorizing a psalm. That’s something I can do and will know if I’ve done. I immediately had the bad thought that I can always fall back on the 23rd psalm…. see how quickly sloth steps in?
Make your resolutions. Keep them short and attainable. Pray. Get up when you fall down.
I need to go take my dog for a brisk forty five minute walk. Or should I do it tomorrow?
Share one resolution in the comment section.