New years resolutions are perceived with disdain. There is so little follow through on these annual commitments. Why bother? We see the signs as the stores showcase the workout equipment and clothes at the beginning of January. We hear it in our conversations as we move from months of feast to a realization that it is time to get our eating back under control. By February and March, the commitment lags and we settle in to our typical routine. If we are active, we continue to exercise. If we are consistently cautious eaters, we continue to do so. Is it worth it to make resolutions at the New Year?
Yes, it is! Regardless of whether the change lasts, the process has merit. New resolutions are a manifestation of hope. They demonstrate the belief that I can be a better person. I communicate this not only to others, but also to myself. I stretch myself to become what I know I can be. Is there fault in it because I do not do this over the long haul? I might eat in a healthy way for a month and then slip in some previous bad habits. This has been good for my body for that month and maybe, just maybe, I establish some good practices.
How sad to avoid this practice because of certainty that I will not follow through. This perception portrays a belief that I do not have the ability to improve. I believe I will not make the desired change because I have not succeeded in the past. Perhaps my focus needs to change from the long-term outcomes to the attempts. Perhaps the effort is worthwhile in its own right.
Benedict of Nursia wrote a Rule of Life for the monastic communities. It was a manual for how they were to live in community. It covered all areas of life including study, prayer, work, eating, how they related to each other, etc. At the heart of this small book is a chapter on humility. The growth of humility is coupled with spiritual development. Benedict communicated that as we draw close to God, humility is a natural result. Of course the desire was to follow the rule, but the spirit was to be one of love and humility. The community was not perfect. There were stated consequences for disobedience or laxness. But it was a target, a focus for the community to aspire to.
New Year’s resolutions give me something toward which to aspire. As applied by the monastics, there is an added component to the commitments I make as a servant of the living God. I live my life for the glory of God. I want to be fully used by God and this necessitates that I continue to do what I can to make myself the best possible instrument for the Kingdom.
A help to me in this attempt to improve is the Japanese practice of Kaizen. Kaizen was first introduced to the West as a business practice. It is the process of continuous improvement through minute (miniature) steps. It has been applied to all areas of change. If I want to change my eating habits, I leave one bite of food on my plate or eliminate a part of a roll from my meal. If I want to start exercising, I walk around the living room once a day. If I want to read scripture every day, I read one verse. When this change is comfortable to me, I add another minute piece. The theory is that change is overwhelming when we look at the entirety of what we want to do. Taking these tiny steps helps bypass the amygdala, the part of our brain that holds fear. Anyone can take one less bite of food. That’s not a big deal. Eventually, I realize that I am in control of my eating.
God loves us without condition. The improvements I make at the New Year are not to curry God’s favor. God is with me in this change and I can rest in the assurance that God will give me what I need to be useful as God’s instrument.
In his book, Thoughts on Solitude, Thomas Merton tells God, “Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.“
Grace and peace to you,
 Imai, M. (1986). Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Boston: McGraw Hill Education.
 Merton, T. (1999). Thoughts in Solitude. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.