By Sue Magrath
Well, another Christmas is over, and before we’ve even recovered from that whirlwind, we are faced with the beginning of a new year—just one week in which to formulate our resolutions for the year, and then another week in which to break them all! And what is the point? Do New Year resolutions really hold any meaning for us? Do they make us better people, better Christians, better pastors? I suppose it depends on how you approach them.
A yoga instructor I know recently sent out a mass e-mail with some provocative thoughts about how to enter the new year, and she didn’t mention resolutions once! What she did was ask some important questions that might help us all live more faithfully, being true to our God, our faith, and ourselves. I want to share these with you, along with some thoughts of my own.
- What are my priorities for 2020? How do I want to spend my time? Priorities shift as we get older, as the needs of our families change, as our ministries pass through different seasons of growth or decline. Naming a couple of priorities in terms of the time and energy you devote to them helps you to stay focused without setting an end goal that may or may not be achievable. Occasionally reminding yourself of your priorities allows you to make course corrections along the way without having to beat yourself up for having broken a resolution.
- What quality do I aspire to in the coming year? Aspiration is a process of becoming. It doesn’t happen all at once or have a precise moment when you have achieved the goal. God is never finished with us, nor are we ever done growing. Creating an aspiration and choosing paths that lead to the growth of that trait or characteristic is a good spiritual practice. As you pray through the year, you can engage in the practice of examen, recalling times when you exemplified the quality and re-committing yourself to it when you slip.
- What word will serve as my guide in the new year? I’ve noticed that more and more people are using this practice and finding it meaningful. One friend of mine, after much reflection and listening to God, was given the word “clear.” This allowed her to spend 2019 reflecting on all that word meant to her, mentally, physically, practically and spiritually. It helped her guide the choices she made and recognize how she manifested clearness in her life. This is but one example of the myriad possibilities you might have of a word that serves as a companion throughout your year.
Something you might notice about these three questions is that they aren’t something you can just scribble down on a piece of paper in thirty minutes or less. They require time, intention, thoughtfulness, and contemplation. They require an attitude of prayer, of listening to the God who knows us and loves us, the God described in Psalm 139:1-3:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,
You know when I sit and when I rise,
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways . . .
It is in contemplation that we are given guiding principles that will accompany us through life, year by year. When you approach the setting of intentions for the year in this way, they become guidelines for a life of faith, not concrete aims that we shoot for and often fall short of. They provide opportunities for growth and offer grace in the process. This is my wish for you in the coming of the new year.
Sue Magrath is a spiritual director and the author of several books. Her previous career spanned fourteen years in the mental health field, where many of her clients were victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and/or sexual assault.