What new routines have you vowed to start and keep this year? A healthy eating plan? Exercise regimen? House re-organization effort? The new year offers the promise of a clean slate, a chance to begin again or try for the first time something that will improve our health, our home, our world.
I tend not to make typical resolutions, but I know plenty of people do. Every year, when the first week of January hits, our YMCA becomes a bit of a zoo. You can’t find a free treadmill or weight machine no matter what odd hour of the day you show up. I asked a trainer once, “How long will this go on?” He said, “Hang in there until the end of February and they’ll all be gone.”
We spend a lifetime – or at least a lot of years – acquiring the bad habits or out-of-shape bodies or lukewarm prayer lives that compel us to make resolutions, and yet we expect dramatic results in two months or less. We forget that undoing our habits is a one-day-at-time effort. One day at a time, one year at a time, one decade at a time.
Unfortunately, our society has brainwashed us into thinking we can find a quick-fix for everything. Pop a pill, drink a potion, buy a gadget, and you, too, will look like the plastic perfection staring out from a magazine cover. Of course, body and beauty resolutions are an easy target. They bear the brunt of the new year promises (both fulfilled and broken) because physical appearance is so important in our culture, but I know from experience that spiritual exercise routines and daily doses of prayer are no easier to stick to than that weekly abs class or low-fat diet. Spiritual renewal requires hard work.
At the start of each year, I tend to make a mental list of things I’d like to accomplish by the next year. Not anything like “lose five pounds” because that seems to be a perpetual resolution in my middle-aged life, but things that are broader, more about changing my overall perspective or approach to life than fine-tuning one small aspect.
When I looked back at last year’s list, I was happy to realize I’d accomplished most of what I set out to do without even realizing it. Go on silent retreat. Check. Get a spiritual director. Check. Learn more about Centering Prayer. Check. The one piece that still needs some work is my plan to declutter my office space, although even that isn’t a total washout. So I’m starting this new year with that one thing on my list of goals again plus a few new things: develop my own yoga practice for when I’m home and unable to get to a Y class; look into yoga teacher training programs; attempt regular or semi-regular silent meditation; smile more and stress less; spend more individual time with each of my children; and go on regular dates with my husband. No set time periods, amounts, limits or expectations. Just general hopes for this or some other year down the road.
I like the annual goals approach because it removes the one thing that tends to derail typical resolutions: the notion that if we screw up within a day or a week or a month we might as well give up completely. When we have an annual goal, we can continue to get back up every time we slip and know that there’s still time to make things right. And, if we don’t get to everything on our list by the end of the year, well, there’s always next year. But, it’s not likely that even our annual goals will prove successful if we approach them at breakneck speed, spinning in a hundred directions at once.
In one of my favorite books, A Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel…”
What are the distractions that muffle your spirit? What can you do to still your center in order to achieve your resolutions and goals, whatever they may be?
Even just five minutes of silent stillness every day can begin to reshape our thinking and our lives, and give us strength to follow through on our plans. Five minutes. Can we do that? No formal resolutions, just an unspoken agreement that we will give ourselves five minutes every day to sit and wait for God. Not five minutes while we check email or five minutes while we stir soup or five minutes during TV commercial breaks. Five solid minutes of distraction-free silence away from everything and everyone else.
One small, shared goal to ring in the new year.