New Year, New You

Desire, not discipline, is the key to a successful resolution
2000-01-05

Believe it or not, I still have a few things to say about modesty. ("How dry could the woman possibly bleed one topic?") But, in recognition of the new millennium (or the new year, if you're in the "new millennium doesn't start until 2001" camp) I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

New years are traditionally a time of starting over, of re-evaluating what we're doing, where we are and where we want to be. We look back at the past year and try to figure out what we did wrong, what we did right, and what we need to do better. And we make resolutions. This year we're going to exercise. This year we're going to lose 20 pounds. This year we're going to pray more, curse less and generally be pleasant, wonderful human beings. And we're usually pleasant and wonderful for about three days before the whole plan falls apart.
I am the queen of the resolution. They aren't just New Year's resolutions. They're "as soon as I do this, I'll do that" resolutions. "As soon as I move into my new house, I'll get a routine. I'll get up early every morning, go to Mass, spend an hour in prayer, work out at the gym, and be back at my desk by nine." Then the time actually comes. "Can't do that today, I have to unpack." "I'm tired from the move." "I'm tired from my last trip." "What was I, crazy? What human being can pack all of that in before nine in the morning?" "Hey, I know. When summer comes, I'll get up early every morning, go to Mass . . ." And on it goes. The only constant is that I'm always mad at myself for my constant inaction.

I've finally figured out the problem. When I'm making all of these resolutions, I'm really not making them for myself. I'm making them for "Future Me." It's easy to be hard on Future Me. It's easy to expect a lot from her. After all, what can she do about it? She's not even here yet. Then, of course, when she does arrive and become Present Me, she simply pushes the tasks off onto the new Future Me. It never works.

This year, at New Year's Eve Mass, I made a much simpler decision. I told God that, in the new millennium, I want to be holier. Period. Not holy as in "holier that thou" or pietistic or judgmental, not walking around with my eyes downcast and a mantilla on my head or any of the other stereotypes we associate with holiness. I want to be a more authentically loving person. I want to see Christ in everyone I encounter, and act accordingly. I want to see this world as God sees it, recognizing through Him what is important and what isn't. I want to live this life for what really counts -- forming authentically loving relationships, making a difference in the lives of others, and following God's plan for my life. I want to spend this life planning for the eternal life to come.

No concrete plans. Just the prayerful hope that, with the grace of the Jubilee Year, God would intervene.

And, of course, He did. He's been showing me, ever since, how to get holier. He's been pointing out the aspects of my life which act as obstacles to holiness, and gently (or sometimes not so gently) suggesting that I eliminate them. He's been leading me to good reading. He's lead me to good people.

Most importantly, He's given me the desire for holiness. I think desire, not discipline, is the key to success in any life change. Discipline is basically about doing something because we have to and it's "good for us." We may not want to, but we're supposed to, so we force ourselves. It usually doesn't work for long. Desire, on the other hand, is where there is something else we want so much that we don't mind doing the other stuff, or giving up the other stuff, or whatever other "stuff" it takes to get us there. Desire for holiness is seeing the absolute beauty of God's love, and the absolute beauty we could see in our own lives and our own relationships if we were to embrace that love. Holiness means to recognize and to possess a joy that can never be taken away from us, in this world or in the next.

Of course desire waxes and wanes in all of us. A certain amount of discipline is necessary in any endeavor, and particularly in the pursuit of God. But the more we can keep the desire alive, the more effortlessly we will attain holiness. How is that desire kept alive? First of all, of course, through grace. All authentic holiness comes from God, not from our own efforts. And so we pray. We receive the sacraments. We keep that grace alive. And we keep those holy realities present in our lives. Face it, the world is full of things that stimulate our desire. Those thing blunt our desire for holiness. So do what you can to keep those spiritual realities in your mind. Read Scripture. Listen to good music. (My personal recommendation is anything by Rich Mullins.) Do anything you can to keep God and His love at the center of your life.

And have a holy, happy, merry Millennium!






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