New Year, New You, right? January tends to bring out both the Type A and the idealist in most of us… creating goals on goals on goals, imagining a new life where all of our dreams come true, or idealizing this image of who we think we should be or could be if we just finally tried.
For most of us 2017 is already beginning on a complicated note… the 1st was a Sunday, full of football and feasting in honor of the Blessed Mother. And because a feast day, many of us saved our New Year’s Resolutions for extra vegetables, exercise, smartphone fasts, sobriety, etc. for Monday, January 2nd. But if you’re like me, you slept through your alarm for that 4AM Holy Hour that you were finally going to make, forgot to skip the sugar in your coffee, already owe the Blessed Mother a daily rosary for yesterday, and decided you could just work out later or tomorrow, or next week, or in 2018.
We can all agree that keeping New Year’s Resolutions is a difficult undertaking, but what is often more challenging is deciding what New Year’s Resolutions to choose. How do we get from the mental whispers of “Maybe this will be my year” to making that desire a reality? Psychologists, self-help gurus, best-selling authors, college professors who teach leadership, and general best practices teach us that the most achievable goals are S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (or some variation thereof). For example, if my underlying desire is to “read more”, a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be “I will read 25 books by December 31, 2017. In order to achieve this goal, I will make a list of desired books including theology, fiction, non-fiction, and spirituality by January 8, 2017.” While S.M.A.R.T. goal making is a skill that we can practice, how do we actually decide what areas of our life need the most work?
Taking our desires, our longings, our dreams, our crazy ideas, our secret hopes to prayer is the first step in narrowing down which quirks, bad habits, good habits, peeves, etc. that we want to emphasize or eradicate in 2017. From there we have a number of ways to divvy up our goals. One approach may be Head, Heart, Hands–what new things am I going to learn, love, or create in 2017. Another may follow more traditional pillars of formation like we see in seminary life: Spiritual, Intellectual, Pastoral, Human. Perhaps we want to start with just one goal for the Body & one goal for the Soul, or something with a vocational bent focused on Me, Others, and the World.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? When St. Teresa of Avila began (somewhat begrudgingly I might add) her spiritual tour-de-force, Interior Castle, she expressed her reluctance (and resolve) thus:
But, as I know that strength arising from obedience has a way of simplifying things which seem impossible, my will very gladly resolves to attempt this task although the prospect seems to cause my physical nature great distress; …May He Who has helped me by doing other and more difficult things for me help also in this: in His mercy I put my trust.
With obedience, the Doctor of the Church explains, the impossible becomes simple–and I like the sound of that. Still unsure where to begin with #goals for 2017? Hoping there is a secret top five list at the end of this blog? You’re in luck!
Not knowing myself where to start with the millions of little attachments I’d like to detach from and pounds, attitudes, prejudices, mini-addictions I’d like to lose, I turned to the Bible. (Goal #34: Read the Bible more–Check!) As the Word of God would have it, there are some pretty great verses to serve as the basis of resolutions for 2017… each one is found in chapter 20 and verse 17, further proof that all scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching.
(1) Genesis 20:17: PRAY MORE. Then Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. RSV Genesis 20:17
Now, it’s up to you to make these desires into goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. I don’t know what more prayer looks like for you. Is it adding daily mass into your weekly schedule? a weekly holy hour? daily rosary? or even a daily Our Father? Our relationship with God is the most important relationship in our life. We cannot love others without Love Himself. Are we spending any time cultivating it? What ways can we grow in that relationship in 2017? Who do we need to be praying for? How can we intercede for our loved ones like Abraham?
(2) Exodus 20:17: QUIT COVETING. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. RSV Genesis 20:17
How often is coveting stealing your joy? Is it material goods? The idea that your neighbor’s family has it “all together” in ways yours never will? Is it driven by HGTV, pinterest, instagram, twitter, snapchat, or facebook? Is it FOMO? Is it a coveting your neighbor’s body? Would you be happier if you would just lose 3lbs like Regina George? Is butter, in fact, a carb?
(3) 1 Samuel 20:17: TELL YOUR LOVED ONES YOU LOVE THEM. And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul. RSV 1 Samuel 20:17
Do the people you love know you love them? How do they know? How do you experience love? How do they? What can you do to communicate your feelings to them? Your admiration, approval, interest, concern? There is a reason we hit refresh so many times to check our “Likes”–we long for connection, to know we are loved. How do we show that beyond the “like” button?
(4) 2 Kings 20:17: MAKE A BUDGET. Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord. RSV 2 Kings 20:17
There are no guarantees in life. How prepared are we to take care of our families? Between the oil slump and the Great Flood of 2016, the people of Louisiana (my people) have experienced a great deal of financial devastation in the last year or more. How are we using our financial gifts for good? Often we wait until the end of the year to plan our charitable giving–which makes us give out of our leftovers, not our abundance. Giving to the causes we love and that desperately need our support suffer when they are only remembered after the Christmas shopping is done. Does giving make you joyful? How can you plan out your giving over the course of 2017? What type of monthly eGiving can you add at even $5, $25, $50 each month to help support the ongoing operating expenses of various Catholic charities, pro-life advocacy, foreign missions, college campus ministry, or other causes close to your heart?
(5) 2 Chronicles 20:17: TRUST GOD. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. RSV 2 Chronicles 20:17
What can you do intentionally every day to increase your trust in God? Read His Word? Sit in silence meditating on some of these precious verses? Listing out all of the things that you are thankful for? Add a morning offering, placing each day in God’s hands? Giving Him permission to love you and use you to build His kingdom that is already and not yet? Will you read the lives of the saints? Ask for Mary’s intercession? Pray the rosary and reflect on these things in your heart as Mary did?
I don’t know yet how I am going to tackle these #goals, but I do know that with obedience these impossible tasks of growing and pruning and growing some more are made simple.
Dear Jesus, Thank you for a New Year, a new day, a new hour, a new minute, a new second, another new second, and another… Show me how you want to grow me this year, Lord. Give me the humility to try obedience. Give me the perseverance to start over again tomorrow after I blow it today. Give me the vision to see me like you do. Teach me to love, Love.