How many people made New Year’s resolutions this year? How many have already dropped them? My guess is that very few people reading today are still committed to something they made at the beginning of the year, mostly because the vast majority of us don’t even bother trying anymore! We’ve failed so many times, what’s the point of coming up with something?
Our readings this past weekend tell us why: because we are called to conversion each and every day. The prophet Jonah goes through Nineveh preaching repentence, reminding us that we need to change, and more importantly, that we can change. St. Paul tells us that the time for change is not tomorrow or some day in the future, but now. Now is the time for the coming of the kingdom. And our Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, shows us the way: we are to leave behind what hold us back and follow him.
So why don’t we? Why are we so bad at coming up with and sticking to new ways of living? I would like to suggest three things we do wrong and three ways to act differently.
1. We don’t even show up
We live by an interesting all-or-nothing attitude sometimes. We think that unless we are 100% committed to something, unless we are passionate, focused, and excited about doing something, we’re just going through the motions and cheating ourselves. If we’re not going to commit, why do anything at all, right?
Yeah… except that’s sort of ridiculous. Can you imagine if we only did the things we wanted to do, only the things that we had passion for? My guess is that we wouldn’t have friends, a family, or a job, because each of those things require that we show up even when we don’t want to. As terrible as it sounds, showing up and doing the right thing, even for the wrong reason, is still better than not showing up at all! Life is made by those who show up, not by those who don’t.
In making good habits in the new year, the biggest mistake we make is letting how we feel about something dictate how committed we are to it. Our motivation is our inspiration/passion/emotion rather than the goodness of the act itself. If prayer is our goal, going to prayer, even when we don’t want to, even when we’re not feeling anything, even when we don’t “get anything out of it,” is still better than not going at all. It may not feel authentic at first, but with time and consistency, it will become a habit. Staying home is not going to make us better at prayer; only showing up will do that.
2. We think only about ourselves
How many of our resolutions have only to do with us? “I want to lose 10 pounds.” “I want to eat healthier.” “I want to read more.” It’s all about “I.” We put the emphasis on ourselves, saying that no one else can do it for us, and we’re only cheating ourselves if we don’t follow through.
But there’s another side to this: we’re only benefiting ourselves if we succeed. There is no sense of community, connectedness, responsibility. Rise or fall, our actions affect us. And if I’m not hurting anyone else, it’s easy to let resolutions slide and never actually change.
But what if our goal was something that could benefit others if we succeed and hurt others if we fail? What if our New Year’s resolution was community-minded or even Christ-minded? My guess is that we would have a little extra motivation. My guess is that we would feel more committed to what we were doing.
In picking habits, we need to move away from ourselves and move towards Jesus. What should we be doing that Jesus wants us to do? What did Jesus do himself and how do we become more “Christ-like”? When we go to pray, when we read about his life, death, and resurrection… that’s when we find the things that we need to change and the motivation to stick to them.
3. We have no trust or patience in God
So often we expect to reach the end of our conversion on the first day. We go to the gym for a week and wonder why we don’t have six-pack abs. We think that just because we set our hearts on Jesus that our lives will all-of-the-sudden be sinless and perfect. And when we don’t see immediate results, it is very easy to get discouraged and give up.
But here’s the thing: conversion takes time. We can’t be today what only tomorrow will bring. We can’t reach the end without running the race, putting in work, and taking our time.
And here’s another, more important thing: conversion is ultimately up to the work of God. If all we do is trust in ourselves and build everything on the foundation our of own strength, we’re going to fail every time. We are simply not good enough in ourselves to overcome sin. We are not strong enough to overcome human weakness in ourselves. It is only God who can truly effect something new in us. It is only God who has the power to conquer sin, to give strength.
We may have setbacks, struggles, and failings. That’s all apart of conversion. Those who reach the end are not those who give up after failing at first, they are the ones who trust in the slow work of God in them.
We are all called to conversion. We are all called to take a step towards a more Christ-like life each and every day. The journey will never be completed in the day but is the result of continually showing up, keeping our focus on Christ, and trusting in the slow work of God. If you haven’t had success starting something new in your life this year, maybe this is what you need.