Thoughts for the New Year!
I am not much for New Year’s resolutions; I have tried and failed so many years that they are just not worth the effort for me. They can be counterproductive, even, because I get discouraged. But the beginning of a new year is an especially good time to reflect on how I am actually living my life, on what kind of person I am, and on what does need to change for me to move closer to becoming the unique person God created me to be, the one he died for, to set free to be able to become more like Him. In that context, I want to share this list of five principles that I came across some years ago. (I don’t know who originally wrote them, so I can’t give credit where credit is due. I wish I could; they have changed my life.) The principles are simple; they don’t involve me making outrageous promises to lose 30 pounds, to exercise regularly, or to pray the liturgy of the hours every day. They are just simple principles that I’m trying to learn to live by. The simplicity and balance of the precepts ring true to me, and help me embrace them. Here they are:
1.Trust in Jesus’s perfect victory.
We read in 1st John 3, verse 8: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead for the redemption of mankind (and indeed, all of creation!) was profoundly effective - more than we realize. We are surrounded by the works of the enemy and they are quite obvious. So the problem is that, well, Jesus’s victory is hidden. It is not obvious at all. But this hidden victory is more true, more real, more powerful and more eternal than any work of the enemy could ever be. We are assured that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us; we are promised that he shall complete the work he has begun in each of us; we can believe that he is for us and not against us. It is just plain true that he shall freely give us all that we need to continue and to conquer, and he has promised to use all things for our good. His victory has given Him the right to be perfectly in control of our lives and all our circumstances. He loves us, and he also loves those whom we love. We can trust him, all the way around, with everything that is precious to us.
2. Don’t be discouraged.
Easier said than done, right? Especially for some of us! It is far too easy for us to see our weaknesses, and our sins - all the things that are wrong with us, and with our loved ones, the Church and the whole world! Our faith shows us the ideals quite clearly - in the saints, in the power of the Mass and sacraments - and yet what we often experience is so far from the ideal it is easy to come to believe that the ideal is just another impossible goal, a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ that is bound to fail. We are always needing to be reminded of the first point above, trust in Jesus’s victory, but we also need to be reminded that God is a God of process (for His own, incomprehensible reasons!) and that if everything was already perfect now, we’d already be in heaven. Personally, I am very goal-orientated. I desire that processes be short so I can reach the goal! And many of us seek instant gratification so when the process is long it is far too easy for us to fall into frustrated despair. The truth is (ouch) that the real goal is not to get to the end of the process (that doesn’t even happen in this life) but to be fully engaged in the process. Which brings us to the next thought…
3. Draw close to Jesus.
I have had some precious moments when the profound realities of our faith have been overwhelmingly clear: that the all powerful Being who created everything that exists, loves me, became a man, and then gave his very life for me; that this Being of pure love is everywhere present and always with me; that I live and move and have my very being in Love Itself, and most stunning of all, that he desires to share his life with me in an intimate relationship. Selah. I am becoming more and more aware that He wants me to walk in the reality of his loving presence and his care for me every moment of every day. He fervently desires me to have ears to hear the voice of His love that longingly speaks to me every moment of my day. A tall order…. for me, this means that I need to s l o w d o w n. I can take the time to read the scriptures; I can take the time meditate on the reality of His existence, and on the truths that he has purposefully made available to me; I can consciously and actively look for him in every moment, and in every circumstance, of every day.
4. Have close loving family and friends.
I am an introvert (surprise!), and I naturally tend to withdraw and isolate myself regularly. This is especially true, and becomes unhealthy, when I find myself in pain, or I find myself discouraged. The truth is that God created us to be in relationship with other people, and we are actually most able to be peaceful when we spend a certain amount of time with those people who love us, and appreciate us. It takes effort, including the investment of time, to develop and maintain such supportive relationships. And it is particularly hard to let people love us when we feel like we truly are failures, rejects… But it is so often precisely through relationships like these that God chooses to reveal his love and support to us. In a blessed interdependence, it is often through others that he provides what we need. So I need to take the time, make the effort, and make room in my busy schedule for the people who I believe love me and are willing to support me.
5. Take care of yourself.
Since I am an adult (contrary to what my wife sometimes thinks), I am responsible for myself. I am the one who must do whatever little things that I can that will remind me of my true value as a unique child of God. It is good for me to make time to do the things that I enjoy, the things that refresh me, that re-create me. God created me to be myself, and he enjoys me. (It took me a long time to even begin to accept that as true in any way shape or form!) He did not create me to get things done, or to be like some other person. He wants me! Including the parts of me that are a restful expression of who He is! It is good for me to have a hobby; it is good for me take a long, hot bath, to read a good book, to go for a hike. Jesus certainly did suffer in his life, but that isn’t all that even He did. (Don’t you think that He enjoyed working with wood and expressing his creativity in that way?) I have gradually come to realize that when I can recognize my intrinsic value in these ways, my natural desire to eat right and to exercise develops along the way, and then those things are much easier to do than when I make crazy New Year’s resolutions. And doesn’t the simplicity and balance of that idea ring true in a way that seems like God?
Five simple principles. Lord, please help me to remember them and embrace them in this coming year, more than I ever have been able to do before. I will find You there!
Don Smith is a "revert" to the Catholic Church. After being a Protestant minister for over 20 years he is happy to be "home."