We all need a new start. We hope for the opportunity of a second chance, we dream sometimes of a fresh beginning. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be on track where today we strayed a bit. We like to think that in the future, things will be better: that the next season will offer something we didn’t have today. When it’s winter, we dream of the beach; when it’s summer, all we want is for it to cool off a bit.
So it seems natural that when the calendar year starts fresh, we’d want to make a fresh start ourselves. Maybe we want to quit some bad habit, or begin a better one. We hope for better health and finances, we pray we’ll start to overcome the struggles of last year.
But more often than not, we realize that the new year is just the day after yesterday and yesterday’s struggles didn’t seem to disappear. We might make lofty promises and strong New Year’s resolutions, but after a few days, we start to doubt we’ll have the will to keep on. How can Orthodox Christians get past the temptation of extremes and then best direct their attention at the start of the new year? What should we keep in mind as we chose our resolutions?
New Year’s resolutions tend to be breakable because we forget the meaning of a resolution. If I make a resolution, I am resolving or choosing to do something; I’m making a commitment. Every Sunday, we make a commitment to Christ as the priest calls us to “commit ourselves, one another, and our whole lives to Christ our God.” We are called to commit ourselves to Christ regularly, throughout the Liturgy, and every week. Just as easy as it is to forget to commit ourselves to God, it is so easy to forget about our resolutions and then give up following through when we prove imperfect. Seeing our resolutions as commitments reminds us that a resolution needs renewal when we are tempted to drop it instead.
We can also see a resolution like a vow or a promise. Viewed like this, we might treat our New Year’s resolutions the way that Christ tells us to keep a vow. Instead of swearing by anything on heaven or earth, Jesus says that Christians should let their “yes be yes” and their “no be no” (Matthew 5:37). A Christian should stick to their word, and their word should be a solid enough foundation that they don’t need to swear by anything.
So whatever we chose to resolve to do this new year, we shouldn’t do so lightly. We should be committed to doing it and then regularly recommit to keeping up with it.
Many of our New Year’s resolutions revolve around our health. We might want to start exercising to get fit, to lose weight, or just to feel a bit more active. But when we aren’t used to exercising, it can be hard to keep up with it. Similarly, the spiritual life can feel the same way. If we aren’t used to praying and reading scripture, it can easily fall by the wayside as “more pressing and immediate concerns” of life take precedence.
This year, we might want to look at all aspects of our health: physical, mental, and spiritual. As Orthodox Christians, we cannot ignore our spiritual lives and focus only on our physical health. But we also can’t neglect the body and the mind in favor of the spirit. If we’d like to improve our physical well-being this year, we should aim to make progress in our spiritual life as well.
Along with a healthier diet and exercise, we can have a healthier approach to prayer and reading scripture. If we are setting aside time to walk or run, we can set aside time to sit in silence and pray. If we are eating healthier foods, we can also take in healthier reading by meditating on scripture and the lives of the saints. And, if we can limit unhealthy foods for the sake of physical health, we can also fast with the Church for the sake of our spiritual health.
If we are choosing to commit ourselves to something, and are regularly choosing to continue on with it, then we will already see the wisdom of taking things one day at a time. Instead of focusing on the entire year and feeling the pressure of the possibility of twelve months of failure, we can instead commit to our resolution this week and more specifically today.
One way to keep our focus on today is to spend a few moments every night reflecting on our day. How did we do following through with our resolution today? What were our highs and lows of the day? By seeing our lows in the context of our highs, it can be easier to be grateful even for our day’s small failures or imperfections.
We are imperfect people who are called into a relationship with a perfect God and it is He who can give us the strength we need to get through today.
Another benefit of taking one day at a time and reflecting on what we are grateful for each day is that we will be able to accept the fact that there will be days that we don’t stick to our resolution. We will be able to accept that we weren’t perfect today, but that with God’s strength, we can make a fresh commitment tomorrow.
Another year has come and gone and now we’re in 2017. As we choose our New Year’s resolutions, we as Orthodox Christians can benefit from seeing our resolutions as commitments that need to be renewed regularly. We can remember to keep the balance in caring for our physical and spiritual health. And, we can take it one day at a time with our resolutions, and not fall into despair even if we fail today.
Are you making a New Year’s resolution this year? How might taking it one day at a time help you to follow through with your resolution?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
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