The beginning of a new year always makes me reflect.
And I’m not alone.
It’s why new year resolutions are so popular: you start to think about all the things you accomplished (or didn’t) in the past year and want to project yourself on a better (or just different) path for the year ahead.
And I love the opportunity to try and set myself up for success and new beginnings. The new year is a fresh start and a time to be concrete about how you want to improve. (It’s particularly helpful if you’ve forced everyone to write their resolutions on a poster board in glitter paint.)
But it’s more than just a time to look forward; the new year gives us a special opportunity to look back on everything that has happened in our lives. It’s a great time to see how we want to change, sure, but it’s a perfect time to acknowledge all the blessings we’ve experienced in the past year.
It’s the perfect time to express gratitude to all the people who helped get us through.
That gratitude, rather than regret, helps us lean into the things that are going well in our lives. Rather than focusing on the mistakes I made last year (there are more than a few) I’m trying to focus on all the things that I’m doing right, and working on offering thanks to those who have helped get me there.
Instead of trying to fight all my terrible habits, I’m going to try and build upon my good ones.
Instead of being disappointed in the difficulties of last year, I’m going to be thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and all the incredible people I’ve encountered.
Because as St Porphyrios said, it’s easier to build our love for Christ rather than to spend our energy fighting against sin. “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”
We can’t spend our lives simply running from sin; that’s incomplete. The more important (not to mention easy and fulfilling) thing is to spend our lives running towards Christ.
And an important part of building up my love for Christ is expressing gratitude.
I like to think the people I love know how much I love them. But I also know that, despite my best efforts, I occasionally take them for granted. It’s easy to fall into a rhythm when someone is there for you all the time. We come to see their presence in our lives as a guarantee rather than a blessing, and forget to be appreciative of who they are and what they do.
And that starts with acknowledging that there are things you couldn’t do without them.
Not only does acknowledging and offering thanks remind those in your life how much you need them, but it also reminds you that there are people who love you enough to offer you their time and energy. It reminds you that even when you have rough moments in the upcoming year (as I’m sure we all will) there are also incredible things in your life. Remembering that, and expressing that freely, strengthens your relationships with the people you love. It helps them know they are wanted and needed.
Actually looking someone in the eye and genuinely thanking them for all they have done for you reinforces your relationship and helps you both appreciate each other.
As important as it is to express gratitude to the people in our lives, and show our appreciation for all that is done for us, it is just as important to be grateful in our spiritual lives.
More often than I care to admit, I find myself forgetting to be thankful in my prayer life. I pray for what I want, and for those who I want God to help, but I forget to also be thankful for all that the Lord has already given us.
While I remember the blessings of my life, and acknowledge them as blessings, I don’t always remember where those blessings are coming from. And how important it is to express thanks for them in my prayers.
The good things in my life aren’t by accident. The people who help me every day (for whom I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing. The opportunities I’m offered (for which I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing. And it’s not enough to simply be appreciative, I have to actively express that appreciation.
Expressing our gratitude floods our memories with these blessings and we start to remember more of the good and less of the bad. Our past year begins to look brighter than it once did, and our outlook on the future improves.
And instead of just focusing on the glitter pen resolutions, I can also focus on what how much God has already given me, and how completely He loves me and us all.