Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Each New Year we all take a deep sigh, either of gratitude or relief, and put the past in the rear-view mirror. In previous years, I’ve found myself promising to no longer binge-watch television shows for entire weekends, argue about politics, eat more than two donuts at a time, or wear cargo shorts in public ever again. Emotionally, it’s satisfying to feel as if I’m breaking free from my slumber and finally awake to the possibilities of a life unencumbered by the mistakes of the previous years.
New Year’s resolutions function as a mental, physical, and spiritual deep-cleaning. Because of this they often focus on what needs to be left behind in order to achieve happiness. This is helpful, after all — who among us hasn’t been sabotaged by past hang-ups, bad habits, or old mistakes re-surfacing? It’s important to let go of baggage so we aren’t weighed down on our journey into the future.
Letting go can take many forms, such as making peace with emotions over the past and being able to move on with grace. It can be spiritual, such as forgiveness and letting go of guilt. It can be physical, such as de-cluttering and organizing or deciding to exercise more. All of this is necessary and good. Subtraction is so liberating, though, that it’s tempting to allow it to become the whole solution when, in fact, the hard work has just begun.
I remember once hearing a monk speak about leaving a successful, busy life in New York City behind, giving up his possessions, and taking vows in a monastery. The reaction from his friends who didn’t understand his motives was accusatory. They thought he had fled from reality and taken the easy way out. He explained to them, though, that by subtracting distractions from his life, he actually had a more challenging life. He was now free to become the person he wanted to be through self-knowledge, prayer, and gratitude. It’s a beautiful life. But, he warned, it wasn’t easy. The lesson? Getting rid of physical or emotional clutter is unburdening, but don’t quit there and leave an empty space. Be brave enough to take the next step.
Filling your heart with love and beauty takes real effort, every day. Perhaps that’s why so many of us struggle with New Year’s resolutions. Excitement about leaving the past behind makes us forget that it takes a lot more to actually take the next step forward.
It’s the step forward that is so exciting, though! Like all good things, it’s worth the struggle.
When I do my annual self-inventory, I remind myself that life is good and my goal isn’t simply leaving behind the bad but also reaching out for more of the good. God gave us all the goodness and beauty of the earth to love and enjoy. So don’t go overboard and throw out everything! Cherish that which is beautiful in your life and seek more of it.
Don’t be content with only leaving behind situations and people who have caused negative emotions. Take time to also re-dedicate yourself to your family and those who are your true friends.
When it comes to spirituality, don’t simply make an end-of-year confession. Also write down your goals and consider how much God has blessed you.
When it comes to physical objects, sure, de-clutter a bit, but don’t get rid of possessions or precious keepsakes just for the sake of it. Don’t be ashamed of wanting to dress nicely, or to have an inviting, gracefully decorated house, or of exercising to stay in shape. Don’t feel as if it’s wrong to indulge in a lazy afternoon at the coffee shop or take vacation time to travel.
3 Apps that can help you keep your New Year’s resolutions