Sunday, January 20, 2013

The blue box of New Year's Resolutions

It’s three weeks into January, and it’s time to check our progress on those New Year’s resolutions that we embraced with enthusiasm.

I have a standard resolution: stop eating sweets after the Christmas holidays. Because we had an excess of chocolates and baking this year, it was necessary for me to approach this resolution strategically. While the chocolates were in the pantry, and the baking was in the freezer (frozen cookies are the most tempting), there was no point tackling this resolution. The best course of action, and I undertook it with aplomb, was to finish up the treats first. With that dutifully accomplished, I have conquered my first resolution of 2013. 

My policy for resolutions: "reuse and recycle"
Photo: public domain
I am prone to repeating resolutions from year to year. My New Year’s resolution policy might best be described as “reuse and recycle”. The plethora of advice on how to keep New Year’s resolutions suggests that many people share my policy.

Our good intentions to remake our selves are usually short lived. Before the end of January, the majority of our resolutions are languishing in the blue box, waiting to be picked up, dusted off, and reshaped. 

Breaking free from our excesses
Many New Year’s resolutions focus on physical wellness. Year after year, weight loss, fitness, smoking cessation, and reducing alcohol consumption top the lists of the most popular resolutions. With resolutions of this type, we seek to break free from our excesses, and to transform some aspect of our self.

While our resolutions are not outwardly spiritual, there is an underlying spiritual context to our annual obsession with self-improvement. Our resolutions express our desires for a new beginning. We seek to heal the past, and to improve the future. Our resolutions are signs of hope. This hopeful longing for transformation is an expression of spirituality.

Based on the lists of popular resolutions, the majority of us rarely consider our need for spiritual wellness. Spiritual practices do not appear on our lists. This seems to me to be an unfortunate omission. Spiritual practices, when incorporated into our regular routines, will gradually accomplish the substantive transformation for which we long.

While not a quick fix, spiritual practices are life giving
Praying hands - public domain
In my experience, spiritual practices are much like resolutions. As our initial enthusiasm wanes, they become hard to keep. Resolving to pray, to read spiritual texts, to attend church, to comfort the afflicted, or to serve the poor, for example, does not mean that we will consistently do so. Like other resolutions, spiritual practices are not a quick fix. We do not suddenly become saints because we try to pray more, just as we do not become super models because we try to lose a few pounds. 

There is a difference between our efforts to incorporate spiritual practices into our lives, and our attempts to remake our selves through New Year’s resolutions. That difference lies in the ability of a spiritual practice to deepen our friendship with God, our knowledge of our selves, and our willingness to reach out to others.  And so, I have always found that spiritual practices are life giving, regardless of the number of times I fish them out of the blue box.

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