Making and Keeping New Year's
A New Beginning, with a New Relationship with Jesus
Why should I make any New Year's Resolutions? I never keep them.
Almost all of us have had the experience of wanting to begin a new year resolving to improve, to do some things better than we have before. It is natural to have hope, to want to believe we aren't stuck in the ways we currently behave, and yet, all of us have the experience that we haven't done too well with our past resolutions. In fact, at this time of the year, the newspaper cartoons almost always point out the humorous side of our trying to make resolutions that don't seem to have a chance of succeeding.
Why do our resolutions so often fail?
So often our good intentions fail and fail quickly. There are many reasons, of course, and some of them relate to how realistic our resolving is, but sometimes, we resolve to end addictive behavior without really giving it a chance. Most of the time, most of our resolutions are our best attempts at just having stronger will power. Though there are outstanding examples of heroic virtue, and some people really do quit addictive behavior "cold turkey," there are far too many examples of failure.
One instinct deep in Ignatian Spirituality is the sense that, while it is good to develop stronger will power and self-control, real change in our lives actually happens most reliably when it comes from our deepest desires. Ignatius knew, from his own experience, just as we often discover in therapy, in spiritual direction, upon reflection on our own experience, that usually do what we want to do. We rarely do what we don't want to do. The secret to change is to reform our desires - discovering what our deepest desires are and trying to change or re-form them. This was no self-help process for Ignatius and many of the Saints. It was the process of getting to know Jesus and falling in love with him. Once we fall in love with someone, all our desiring changes.
Don't I already know Jesus? Don't I already have a relationship with him?
Often this sounds too simple to us. Don't I already know Jesus? Haven't I already fallen in love with him? Of course, hearing the invitation at the beginning of this new year to examine our relationships with Jesus, and let them be renewed this upcoming year, begins with the freedom to acknowledge that there is room for growth here. And, it starts with something of an attraction, a small desire, even a bit of curiosity that wonders, "What more can I discover? How might my heart be more captured by Jesus?"
Love always directs our hearts. But, there are other spirits, too. At times we discover the sad reality that falling out of love changes our hearts dramatically, too. Once we lose that affection, that attraction, that draw, then trouble begins. Whereas before we experienced a wonderful energy that wants to spend as much time as we can with someone we love, and wants to do anything we can for the one we love, now we experience a coolness, an emptiness, a distance, and unfortunately, at times, the other starts to annoy us. Sometimes we say, "it just happened," but upon reflection, we realize sadly that there was sin involved. We made some bad choices, some selfish choices. We stopped contributing to the relationship. What isn't growing is usually dying. And, of course, sin is contagious and we live in a culture that doesn't support self-less loving. There are the messages: What about me? What about my needs? We tend to keep score. There are bad spirits among us that seem determined to make loving difficult, that seem to prevent wounds from healing, that seem to promote division, highlight differences and ultimately lead to war. This whole pattern, which we have understood as "Original Sin" has described for us what we is overcome by Jesus' coming, and by his life, death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit. Jesus destroyed sin and death's power over us. Re-connecting with him this new year is re-connecting with his power to free our hearts to love again.
How do we get to know and fall in love with Jesus?
Getting to get to know Jesus in a new way, at a deeper level is just like getting to know anyone. We begin by spending more time with a person. We pay attention to them. We get to know their story more completely. Eventually, we become more and more curious and more and more fascinated by how the person acts, what motivates that person, how he or she thinks. Of course, the key here is not only to learn more about Jesus, but to come to really know him, to experience a relationship. It is easy to imagine that Jesus knows me. It is more difficult to imagine that I am in a relationship with Jesus, and we know each other and there is something special about this relationship. For example, some of us will get to know Jesus and become really fascinated by his mother and father and that will shape our sense of who he is and our relationship with him. Some of us will come to love the way he chooses and interacts with his disciples. Many of us will learn a great deal about Jesus from how he tells stories and reveals things about God and about the Kingdom of God. Still others of us will become engaged by how Jesus interacts with and heals sinners and sick people. Perhaps we will identify with this or that story which will characterize our particular relationship with him.
What about my resolutions?
While we are getting to get to know the Lord the things we may have been tempted to resolve begin to change. We may still need to lose weight and exercise more, but what will inevitably rise to the surface are patterns that are like his. Attraction so naturally leads to imitation. The more we fall in love with this wonderful Lord and his powerful way of loving and surrendering his life to the plan of the Father, that he be Servant for us, the more we will open our hearts to ask the Father to use us, to be servants, too. Then our desiring starts to be transformed. We will gradually and more deeply begin to ask for the graces we need - which is a more humble place to begin that making bold promises. We'll ask our Lord to purify our desiring. We ask to for the grace to be drawn into the pattern of Jesus' loving and forgiving. We ask for the desire to surrender more, to let go of our own needs more completely so that we can give ourselves to the needs of others first. We will begin to see the people closest to us with Jesus' eyes, with Jesus' heart. Our love for them won't depend upon how much they please us or even how much they reciprocate our love. That isn't the way Jesus loves us. Jesus loves us because we are sinners. Jesus loves us because we need forgiving and healing. Jesus loves us because we need loving.
Gradually, our resolutions get freer and more about self-donation. We say, "Lord, these are my desires and I am asking you for the grace to live them." Gradually, the other spirits lose their power, their attraction. As Jesus confronts and contradicts the values of our culture in us and around us, the sillier all that kind of desiring becomes. We don't change our way of consuming and change our way of seeing our role in the world or hear the cry of the poor day after day by strengthening our will power. Our life style and our choices really become transformed when we become people who know, beyond anything else, that we are loved unconditionally by our God. When we become lovers of Jesus, we will naturally love the way he loves. When we become followers of Jesus this will be a blessed new year, indeed. And those who are sinners among us, the poor around the world, and those who suffer the tragic effects of sin, division and war, will experience the difference.
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