Across cultures and throughout history, New Year’s Day has been a time of jubilant celebration. But for many, it is also a time to reflect on regrets and to focus on the new beginning offered by a fresh year. Perhaps this is where the concept of the “New Year’s resolution” came from—from our very human desire to make things right after realizing that we have all done so many things wrong in our lives. From little things: eating too much, complaining—to bigger things: drinking in excess, mistreating our loved ones, etc. Everyone has his or her own personal demons, and New Year’s Day, for many, is a symbolic time to analyze our weaknesses, set new goals and start anew.
The concept is a familiar one to Christians, who often view our conversions to Christ as that eternal “fresh start,” and yet, believers in Christ continue to carry the burden of personal failings. New Year’s resolutions, then, can be a symbolic time to remind ourselves that, as was so well put in Jonah, a Veggie Tales Movie: “our God is a God of second chances.” And third, and fourth, and fifth chances, and so on—you get the idea.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions, though, is how difficult it is to keep them. Many of us have vowed off carbs (or sugar, or fat) for our New Year’s resolution after a month of holiday binging only to return to our bad habits days or weeks (sometimes, mere hours) later. Whether a commitment to break a bad habit starts on New Year’s Day or any other day of the year, there are a few tricks to making them stick—and the best way to start anew is to do it equipped with the tools the Church has provided its faithful for 2000 years. What follows are a few suggestions to get you started in resolving to wipe out bad habits in the year to come.
1. Start small. It’s always good to critically analyze areas of your life where you find weaknesses and work on ways to fix them. But it’s not wise to bite off more than you can chew. Start out with small things and take one step at a time, holding onto God’s grace all the while, until you reach your goal. Then, when you do, set bigger goals. As 6th century author (The Ladder of Divine Ascent) John Climacus said, “We can’t climb the whole ladder in one leap.”
2. Speaking of God’s grace, it’s critical to pray unceasingly while undertaking to accomplish any kind of goal. We should ask for God’s help before we start, while we are working toward our goal and afterwards, as we take on new goals. Establishing a line of communication with God is paramount if we are to receive strength and help in overcoming our own weaknesses. As the Apostle Paul advises in 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
3. Make yourself accountable. Seek spiritual counsel from a trusted leader and/or a more mature person in your life. Ask them to hold you accountable—whether your resolution is to eat less, pray more or spend more quality time with your loved ones—your brothers and sisters in Christ can remember you in their prayers and check in with you from time to time, gently holding you accountable for your actions and offering counsel and support in times of weakness.
4. You know the old saying: “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” If you fail, it’s okay to get up and start over. If we keep trying to overcome our weaknesses, and we prayerfully ask for His help, He will extend His mercy to us. As Church Father John of Karpathos said, “Do all in your power not to fall, for the strong athlete should not fall. But if you do fall, get up again at once and continue the contest. Even if you fall a thousand times … rise up again each time, and keep on doing so until the day of your death. For it is written, ‘If a righteous man fall seven times’—that is, repeatedly throughout his life—seven times ‘shall he rise again.'”