Have you ever asked Jesus what his new year resolution was? Use that cute “WWJD” question form and ask him. It might be a silly question, considering the degree of his perfection (you know, infinitely perfect and what not). But really, what would Jesus do?
Would he tell you to let your yes mean yes and your no mean no? Would he tell you today has enough anxieties of its own, don’t worry about that resolution? Would he say be not afraid to commit? In all honesty, I think Jesus is against new year resolutions. They have some value because they can inspire us to do something good, to effect something worthwhile in my life and the lives of others. However, too often we fail in the first two months (that sounds like a really long commitment anyway).
Here’s his answer: “New year resolutions are a safe way to say no to greatness.” Think about it: As awesome and as pretty as that goal is, you will burn out or despair or give up or change it or … and you know what else? You’ll have the perfect excuse to justify it too. St. Paul, on the other hand, is under the impression that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, from this call to greatness.
But wait, how does a new year resolution say no to greatness? It can limit the work of grace in your life. Even if the goal is a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), it can put a lid or a limit or a boundary on the grace of God. “Hi, I’m your child, but I expect or want to grow this much… no more, no less.” If I grow little, I didn’t do enough and I’m not holy enough. If I grow too much, the Lord might give me a great responsibility and actually call me to sainthood. I might actually believe that He loves me and that He is worth all my life, and that I am worth His time. Both of those (little or much) are unappealing options for our near-dead souls, lethargic bodies, stubborn hearts, and prideful minds.
I don’t mean that Jesus doesn’t like change or doing something worthwhile. But in the same thought, think of this: exactly! He desires good for us. Why wait until January 1 to change or admit some of that shame? It is good to pick up your cross daily and follow him. Yeah, doing it once a year is nice. If you like using the bible as a reference manual, you can even back up that once-a-year minimalism by saying, “as long as I confess with my lips and believe with my heart, I am saved.” Nice try, but not everyone who confesses with their lips will be saved. Further, this belief in and from the heart has real implications. To start, read Sacramentum Caritatis and Matthew 25 if you don’t believe me.
Doing something good for yourself is important. Restricting it to once a year (okay, I’ll be realistic: two months) is a clear and unambiguous rejection of your true and particular call to greatness (in a wholesome sense of the word). Fellow Christian, are you not led by the Spirit (Jn 3:5)? That means that plans change because we are first obedient to the will of God, not our passionate and disordered desires. Have we not been anointed by that same Spirit and taught to call God our Father? What does the child do when dad says something? The child does it! “Dad said it, duh.” It’s simple. What’s important is the lead and call of God, not the stumbling block of my overambitious goals.
Sounds like I’m against goals, eh? Well, when a goal is the limit or the end or the only reason for doing something, yes. Let’s pretend I resolve to pray for an hour every morning this year. Why do it? Is it because the cool kids do it? Is it because I want to prove to my friends I know how to sit still for an hour? Or, is it because I want to make room for God in my life? Is it because I have some sense that He loves me, but I don’t know what else to do. Maybe he wooed me like the Samaritan woman and now I am asking him for something to drink. I hope my practical resolution is a response to God’s call, not me limiting his work in my life. Can you see the difference? Read some of the pope emeritus:
Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. (Spe Salvi, 32).
Nice. Pope said it, no more questions, right? Let’s continue:
It must be stretched.
It, your heart, must be stretched. My heart must be stretched to receive God and therefore live the greatness to which He calls me. If I set my goals on my terms, I’m going to pull a Zechariah. (He’s the guy who doubted Gabriel’s message and was made mute for nine months). I’m pulling a Peter, the kind of Peter where I push back on Jesus and say, “ain’t no way you getting’ killed on my watch!” You remember the response of Jesus, don’t you? Today the response might be more like, “ain’t no way you makin’ me a saint. Come on man, gimme holiness, just not yet.” Should I aspire to live out this call in some practical ways? Yes. But, I reject the work of the Holy Spirit when I say He can only work within these bounds… I might give God boundaries because either 1) I actually don’t believe He can do greater work or 2) because at my core I am afraid of the power and love of God in my life.
Let yourself say yes to the Triune God daily. Why get frustrated or depressed in February when you realize you don’t know how to commit? Let Him be the potter, and you the clay. Is it as easy as saying yes? That’s what we say about Mary, isn’t it? Why would you say no to greatness? As a Christian, you’ve probably figured out that this home is more like a semi-foreign land in which we do not hold citizenship. Say what? Read this for details. Be grateful for the grace of baptism right about now.
That call to greatness is universal, yes. But it is not a trickle down effect. God’s call to you is complete. Does he call you only when you “pray the right way?” No, but his call does inflame your heart and maybe even “wound you” with love. Have you ever ached to love someone? Have you ever considered that God aches for you to receive his love? Pay special attention to paragraphs 2560 and 2563 in that hyperlink.
Responding to God can seem daunting. Yet, it is what you and I are made for… today. The daily picking up of your cross is not a complacent mindset or abstract idea. It is a (sometimes) scary (but always) practical thing that we have the opportunity to do at any and every moment. It is also why life is living. Why wouldn’t you live your life to the full if Jesus gave you the opportunity? You got shame? He has Confession. You need grace? He gives the Eucharist. Say yes to Him.
Note: Clearly I am projecting what I think Jesus would say about new year resolutions. I invite you to share your contrasting or similar opinion.