Resolutions

Perhaps more than any other time of the year, New Year’s reminds us that we’re not sure exactly what we want.

The day has always felt a little out of place. Right when the Christmas holiday is drawing to a close, men of goodwill resume their morning commute, return to their offices, consult their calendars, see that they need a new one, and . . . throw another party! After the magic and the revelry at the arrival of the Christ child, the advent of a new calendar year always seems to pale in comparison.

Yet leaving aside the midnight gatherings and toasts and all, New Year’s remains the most popular occasion for us as Americans to examine our lives and form resolutions to make them better. Just how to get them to improve is the catch. We can’t seem to keep our resolutions for very long, and we struggle to formulate them in the first place.

We don’t simply want general things like happiness or peace or beauty, but specific ways to have these. We want a perfect fix, but we don’t know what that is. And even if all our dreams came true, we don’t even know all the consequences that would follow. Even our efforts to construct the perfect Christmas can leave us exhausted from one too many in-laws or one too many Scottish shortbreads. Universally, we want life to be better, but we don’t know what that means.

I’ve often wondered, if only our resolutions were more dramatic, they might have a good, strong effect before they lose steam: Perhaps a husband and wife could fan the flame and make it a weekly ritual to take up the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, stand upon chairs in the living room, and volley to one another, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” I have even heard of a college couple resolving to go barefoot for reasons of solidarity and humanitarianism. Maybe this could make us a tinge more thankful before reverting back to shoes when the “going” got tough. We might even consider the unthinkable and give up drinking soda; then at a low cost we could begin growing live kombucha cultures in our kitchens—a popular and healthy mushroom-tea alternative!

As much as I sympathize with all of these possibilities (originating, as some have, from my own imagining), I’m not convinced we’d be better off having tried them; just as I’m not convinced by standard measures like diets (see the newest craze, Paleo Diets), or a trial membership to LA Fitness, or even trying “harder” to be more virtuous and more loving to the people in our life.

What might make a difference then? Pondering this question calls to mind a line about God I read years back that has always intrigued me:

“His love is…our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is ‘truly’ life.” (Spe Salvi, 31)

Here, the pope makes clear that our need for “deep” happiness can only be answered by God. Every one of us feels there must be something “more.” Only the words from the lips of Christ remind us of a life far greater than our own ideas for improvement. “We have come to know and to believe the love God had for us.” (1 Jn 4:16)

Then how do we grow closer to Him? The good news is that the solution is not one thing, but any one thing. So long as we determine to carve out consistent time from our busy schedules for God, we can grow. And the more tangible the better: Physically showing up at Mass, receiving the Sacraments, opening the actual text of the Gospels and spending twenty minutes with them, performing corporal works of mercy, etc.

Jesus tells us clearly, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6:33) We cannot make ourselves good, but time spent with God makes all else possible. And sometimes it’s just giving that little piece of time that can be a first great step for a new year. Then our resolutions avoid being self-focused as we invest ourselves in the most important relationship of our life: our relationship with God! When it comes to the human heart, Christ alone is adequate.

Image: First New Years Eve Ball (1907)

You May Also Enjoy:

Athletes in Christ There is something amazing about watching the best athletes compete. In astounding feats of physical prowess, they stretch the human body to its physical and mental limits. Throw in a healthy dose of national pride, and you get the glory of the Olympic Games. Thousands of competitors from all over the world converge in one place for a great festival of sport, most of them competing in front of crowds larger than they have ever experienced, and al...
Snow Days It’s 5:00am. I’m snuggled in my dinosaur comforter as huge snowflakes careen with a purpose towards the already well-covered roads. I dream of Power Rangers. Life is good and it’s about to get better. Then it comes. The phone rings in my parents’ room, and, though I have slept through every nocturnal phone call of the past, this one is different. I hear my mother reach for what could either be good or exceptionally good news. She exchanges a f...
The Tears of Saint Dominic “Whilst he thus labored to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in ...
Salvation Amidst the Snow In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago. – Christina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter” That the Nativity comes to us in the bleak midwinter has always fascinated me. Now, one might object that a wintry Christmas is merely the product of a Western imperialist bias. But the bleak midwinter has little to do with t...
Br. Timothy Danaher, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Timothy Danaher entered the Order of Preachers in 2011. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he studied Theology and American Literature. Before Dominican life he worked as a life guard in San Diego, CA, and as a youth minister in Denver, CO. On DominicanFriars.org