Heavenly resolutions grant great relations

  • January 19, 2023

There’s a fascinating trend that occurs in the first month of the year. Gyms typically see a 12-per-cent increase in new memberships at the beginning of January. By the close of the month, four per cent of these new members will have quit the gym, 14 per cent leave by the end of February, and 50 per cent are gone by June, according to the Global Health & Fitness Association.

The so-called “January Gym Rush” is a metaphor for the modern-day New Year’s resolutions exercise. Intentions to get fit, diet and reduce our debt, among other goals, frequently dissolve when the rubber hits the road. Subsequently, many people suffer a crushing sense of defeat. Rather than go back to the drawing board, they resolve never again to make New Year’s resolutions, which pretty-much guarantees they will be unfit, overweight and debt-ridden at this same time next year.

New Year’s resolutions are not the problem. It is good for us to be healthy, happy, productive and the best we can be; we know what we need to do to get there.

Rather, our resolutions fall flat because we fail to do two things: acknowledge, and rely on, the real source of our strength; and connect our goals to a wider context.

It’s ironic that a 4,000-year-old Babylonian practice, which historians believe is the origin of New Year’s resolutions, focused on the gods of the day. The Babylonian New Year began in March with the planting of crops, celebrated by the religious festival Atiku. During the festival, people promised the gods they would pay their debts and return borrowed items. The gods would bless those who fulfilled their promises or shun those who failed to do so.

The ancient Romans took on the Babylonian practice, changing the date of New Year to Jan. 1 in honour of the god Janus. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus, vowing to behave well in the year ahead.

God has been taken out of today’s resolution-making exercise. Instead of seeking God’s will for our lives — discerning the aspects of our character that need transformation, asking Him what He wants us to accomplish in the year to com, and vowing to implement His plan — we focus only on what we want.

New Year’s resolutions typically revolve around self-improvement. While that, in itself, is not a bad thing, the greater question of “why” is often missing. Being clear on the “why” of what we’re doing is also a source of our strength.

Why is it important to exercise? Why must we eat nutritious foods? Why do we need to eliminate our debts and save money? 

There can be numerous answers to these and other questions, many of which boil down to the fact that if we are healthy, strong and financially sound, we are in a better position to help others, contribute positively to society and fulfil God’s plan for our lives. 

Basing our goals on what pleases God, as discerned through Scripture and prayer, and calling upon Him to give us the strength, resolve and discipline to achieve these goals will ensure our success throughout the year. 

Indeed, Scripture is full of references to our dependence on God. In his letters, St. Paul repeatedly stresses the importance of perseverance and its positive outcomes.

Yet, character development is sadly lacking in the list of most peoples’ resolutions today.

In her Dec. 20 Farmer’s Almanac article,  digital editor Catherine Boeckmann provides a fascinating look at how New Year’s resolutions have changed over the decades. She lists the 10 most popular resolutions made in 1947 according to a Gallup poll. The top three were: “Improve my disposition, be more understanding, control my temper; Improve my character, live a better life; Stop smoking, smoke less.” Number six was “Be more religious, go to church more often,” while the last one was to lose (or gain) weight.
Fast forward to today, when the top three are: “Lose weight; Get organized; Spend less, save more.” The last one is: “Spend more time with family.” There is no mention of religion or God. 

When the two lists are put side-by-side, its glaringly obvious today’s New Year’s resolutions are largely self-centred, individualistic wish-lists that aim to please ourselves using our own power to make things happen.

When we map out our goals for the year, let us put our relationship with God and others at the forefront. Fr. Edward Looney’s 10 Simple Spiritual Resolutions for the New Year is a great start to grounding ourselves in the grace we need to make — and keep — resolutions that benefit ourselves and those around us.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer specializing in research at an Ontario university.)

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