What was the year 2017 like for you? Was it filled with joy and peace, or anxiety and stress?
The ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions is a staple in our culture–a time when we examine the past 12 months and set intentions for the coming year, promising ourselves to give up some bad habit or to develop new good habits or make significant changes in our lifestyles. It may be a time for trying harder at something (like losing those last five pounds!), or a time of re-establishing broken relationships. But, it can also bring regret and cynicism as we realize we’ve set the same goals year-after-year with little progress. I have never heard of anyone who was successful in meeting all of their resolutions throughout the year. Still, there seems to be a societal norm for all of us to make resolutions.
The fatal flaw with New Year’s resolutions is that we typically bite off more than we can chew. We do not set realistic goals, and so we end up disappointed and, often, forget resolutions by the time February rolls around.
We ‘should’ lose that extra weight, save more money, spend more time with our family, go to church every Sunday, become a volunteer. . . the list goes on and on! And when we fail to meet these expectations, we pile guilt upon ourselves. . . “we ‘should’ have been able to do ‘whatever’”.
‘Should-ing’ on ourselves is counterproductive – it only makes us feel worse about ourselves, and soon supplants any positive feelings we get when we accomplish something. We cannot learn new things or have new experiences if we are constantly telling ourselves we are ‘not good enough’, are failures. Besides, it wastes a lot of time when we could be accomplishing new and better things.
Driven by our stubborn willfulness, pressure, adrenaline and “never good enough” messages, we fail to allow that which is already unfolding in us, and in the world, to emerge. This year, we must get out of our own way, step aside and trust that the better version of ourselves will awaken, however it is meant to be. . . and when it is meant to be. We cannot ‘should’ it to happen.
In John Maxwell’s book, Developing the Leader Within You, a Middle Eastern mystic said, “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me, just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.’
So, what attitude will we choose to adopt in order to make the most of 2018?
Can we just forget about ’resolutions’ that may end up only making us feel worse about ourselves?
Can we just forego judgment about ourselves and strive to be open to love and acceptance, trying to be our best selves each day, whatever that means?
Remember, above all, one of my favorite pieces of advice is:
“Do Not SHOULD upon yourself today!”
If we do that, 2018 will truly be a wonderful year!
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 January 2018