At the start of each new year, many of us examine our lives and, based on what we know of ourselves and how we receive the overly harsh, ever-hectoring judgments of the world, make resolutions for our self-improvement. We make promises to ourselves — and sometimes to God and our families: We’re going to be thinner; we’re going to become patient; we’re going to embrace disciplines that will help us grow as human beings.
Most of us won’t keep our promises for very long, and often the first ones to hit the pavement with a resounding “splat” are those we’ve made to heaven, or to our families.
The reason for that is simple: No matter how much we want to change some aspect of ourselves, God knows us intimately, as do our families. Where there is intimacy, we generally let go of artifice, because we can — because we know that where we are loved unconditionally, we are loved in all of our faults and weaknesses, and thank God for that. The world of work acquaintances, friends and the utter strangers who populate our social media threads (and to whom we hand over way too much of ourselves for inspection and eventual verdicts, yay or nay) is very different.
For their “likes” or button-conveyed “hearts,” we may work at our resolutions just a little bit longer, because we are truly addicted to those dopamine hits of instant approval. Also, we have been conditioned by marketers and ad campaigns to believe that no, we’re not good enough as we are — not in our looks, our homes, not even in how we do laundry. Don’t you know that if your T-shirts don’t smell like springtime, you’re failing?
The deal with New Year’s resolutions is that no one expects us to succeed. Everyone makes them with great intentions and an absolute certainty that they will fail — that our instinct to interior growth and exterior shrinkage, finagled into a promise by an arbitrary date, is a mean invitation to begin the new year with a big fat sense of failure.
To paraphrase the great Catholic writer Flannery O’ Connor, “Well, if that’s all it is, then to hell with it.”
She was speaking, of course, about the notion that the holy Eucharist was a mere “symbol” of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but it works for New Year’s resolutions, too.
This year, as we grimace at our swollen waistlines thanks to holiday feasting, or vow never again to over-imbibe, or to shout in anger or raise a fist while driving, let’s resolve to work mindfully on a few ideas that can help us build the sort of inner serenity which, once gained, can become the foundation for all of those other good intentions. None of them is harsh or burdensome, although any might prove challenging enough. Remembering just these three things throughout the year, however, can color so much of the rest of it.
- It doesn’t really matter what anyone else does, only that we recognize what we are called to do, and that we do it with our whole hearts. The opinions others have of us are really none of our business.
- Whether we get the credit we deserve for the good things we manage doesn’t matter, either. Jesus Christ knows what is true. The world quickly forgot all the good he did, and it was unjust to him, too.
- As Christians, we have no work of our own, only the work God has placed before us — so in the end, it’s really God’s work that we do, and that’s all that really does matter. We serve a crucified Lord who calls us. If we answer that call in 2023, we will be equipped for the job.
And none of that, taken up in honesty and in good faith, needs to touch our egos: not for the better or the worse, no matter whether everything ends up a small “splat” or a great success. God will still say to you, “It is good that you exist.”
Elizabeth Scalia is Culture Editor at OSV News.