Keeping Up Your New Year’s Resolutions
Rev. Dr. Paul Suich
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10 ESV)
How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming? If you are like most people, the resolutions you made around January 1 were abandoned sometime in the last few weeks. We look at ourselves in the mirror, resolve to adopt good habits and revoke bad ones, purchase some equipment, watch a video, and run out of steam a couple of weeks later. We do not make an inquiry into what change requires. We tend to rely on the construct of “resolve,” as if changing complex habits requires nothing more than willpower. The number of treadmills currently covered in laundry bears testimony to how ineffective this strategy is.
If we are going to set and meet goals like New Year’s resolutions, we must understand how people make successful changes.
Resolutions for the New Year
Connect your resolution to your most deeply held values. Shortly after you set your goal, you will come to a crossroad where the easier thing to do is to abandon your goal and take the easy way out. Only if you have a supraordinate goal—a goal more important than minimizing difficulty—will you have a reason to persevere.
Set achievable daily goals. Instead of setting idealistic goals that are poorly defined, we need goals that can be achieved right off the bat. “Being better” does not fit in this category. Writing one thing that you are grateful for is a goal that just might fit the bill.
Be part of community. If you keep your resolution and daily goals a secret so that no one will know if you fail, you will fail. Enlist trustworthy people who will encourage and support you. Let them know of your successes and failures. If you want to lose weight, the Dessert Club won’t be your best community. Seek out people who will join you in pursuit of good goals.
Plan to fail. Failure means you are trying, and trying is what you must do consistently to achieve your goals. You will discover all sorts of motivations that compete with your stated goal. If you have planned on failing, you can respect yourself in the midst of failure, and respect is a powerful force for learning. Asking yourself, “What one thing can I learn from this?” (skipped workout, encounter with an éclair, or impulsive online purchase) transforms failure from a stopping place to a learning place. Failure becomes the gateway for the next improvement.
As a pastor, I recognize the value of being better about budgeting, dieting, and fitness. But this January, we are in the throes of another wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Nearly two years into this pandemic most everyone is exhausted. We have gone from wishing it away, to making temporary but severe accommodations, to a profound weariness of precautions and sacrifice. We have seen our medical and scientific community struggle to come to terms with what these viruses are and how to deal with them. But in the process, many statements about the virus have changed, some have been reversed, and new things keep popping up. Political identity has become irreversibly intertwined with our response to the pandemic. This has led many to adopt the meme of “Over It,” burning their masks, and abandoning all precautions.
Perhaps the New Year’s resolution that we should be considering is “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We do not have the luxury of “getting over” our calling.
Doing Good to Everyone
Resolve to pursue the common good, especially for the vulnerable among us whose voices are seldom heard. Connect this resolution to your faith, your love for God and neighbor—the example that Jesus set. When the easier way out comes along, you will have a big enough, deep enough reason to make sacrifices even though you are weary.
Identify the daily versions of this overarching goal. What is achievable? Is it wearing masks, visiting shut-ins, or serving those who are food insecure? There are specific things that we can do with little cost and real benefits. But we need to know that we are doing something concrete on a daily basis.
Engage your community. Ahhh, this is where the hypocrites come in, isn’t it? “I don’t have a community that I trust,” you say. In this case, it is time to identify the safest people you can find. In Jesus’ language, you need to get good at figuring out who is a sheep (a person you can trust) and who is a wolf wearing a sheep suit and wearing eau-de-ram aftershave (a predator who will abuse your trust). FPC is launching Celebrate Recovery, a group committed to overcoming the hang-ups and compulsions that block us from becoming who we want to be. No hypocrites here; everyone admits they need help. There are many other Bible study groups and ministries (including counseling) that offer safe places to share your commitment to actively participating in our common good.
Plan to meet your selfishness. Soon, you will face a choice between doing something because it will promote the health of others and doing something because that is the way you used to do it. When you choose the comfortable over the common good, you will be able to see your selfishness and ask yourself what you need to learn in order to move forward to fulfill your Big Goal.
We are all tired, but let us not grow so weary of doing good that we abandon the process. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Let’s walk together toward goodness as as we move farther into the new year.
Rev. Dr. Paul Suich
Dr. Suich has served as the head of the St. Andrew Ministry here at FPC Lakeland since June 2001. He came here from Augusta, Georgia, where he led the counseling ministry for ten years at FPC Augusta and had worked in community mental health prior to that. He attended the Psychological Studies Institute and Georgia State, earning a Master’s in Christian Counseling, the University of Georgia where he earned a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, and Asbury Seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity. He grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, and attended Davidson College, a Presbyterian affiliated school in North Carolina. He and his wife Cynthia (also a professional counselor) have two sons, two daughters-in-law, and one grandchild. His hobbies include photography, genealogy, gardening, and woodworking.