New Year’s Resolutions Not Working? Try This Instead...

“Make frequent renewal of good resolutions, again and again.” —St. Philip Neri

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I didn’t want to write a piece on resolutions, because it’s the equivalent of stepping on the scale or preparing for confession. It’s the “Come to Jesus” moment of reality. I cannot stay as I am. Having a real life, an active life, means knowing I will either atrophy or grow. Which do I want and why?

Every year I make resolutions to get healthier. Every year I fail to keep them. Why? Because the date of Jan. 1, whatever the year it is, does nothing to move me to act. My will alone remains insufficient, and the calendar is not a sufficient motivator. Over the years, I’ve tried joining exercise programs that nag you on your wrist, diet plans and diet partners. But life gets in the way, and somewhere between the first and third month, my gym membership card grows dusty. My addictions to french fries, chocolate and caffeinated carbonated drinks seem too strong to lick based on a mere promise to myself, even if I know it would be better for me long term.

When I’ve been pregnant, the doctors required me to go on a special diet for the sake of the baby. For someone else, I could say no to chocolate, Diet Coke, and all things fried and fatty. For someone else, I could exercise. For someone else, directly connected to and affected by all that I ate and drank and did, I could find the resolve to hold to the prescribed diet. The diet wasn’t a list of laws for which I would be punished if I failed to follow them. The diet remained a prescription for health, which would result in the flourishing health of my child (not to mention me). While I did not love the requirements, I loved the baby more than my own appetites.

Looking at sin as an appetite, I know, I cannot avoid it on my own. My will (whether at the gym or in striving toward virtue), remains woefully insufficient to the task. It’s hard to admit, I refuse to use the mental strength to say no to the french fry, but it remains true. This is the state of all people (though the appetite itself may not be the same) whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we seek to grow in holiness or not. We need the Other (that is, God) and the deep knowledge, whatever we do, whatever we think, whatever we say, affects our relationship with God in a tangible way. The prescription he’s given us (through the Old and New Testaments, the sacraments, and the teachings of the saints and sacred tradition of our Church) is not designed to make us miserable or restrict us, but to free us to be healthier, holier people. All the Church proposes is for our benefit, so we can relate better to each other and to God.

The feast of the Epiphany calls us to bring our gifts to the King, to make the effort to serve Him in all humility, knowing our littleness before the Lord. I’ve given up appetites for babies before, because it would help them. Can I give up my appetites now, because it will help me in all of my relationships, most especially that of my relationship with God? It’s the Newborn King. Can I give up my appetites for him?

Maybe this year, I can learn to diminish, to decrease that He might increase, and if I fail, at least not fail to begin again, and take comfort in the words of Saint Philip Neri, “Make frequent renewal of good resolutions, again and again.” Happy New Year.