All the talk at this time is of “New Year Resolutions”, through which everyone intends to become smarter, stronger, leaner, holier, better, etc., in the new year. By the third week in January, most of these resolutions have been obliterated by the daily grind of real life, what the old Stoics called “nature”.
Many of us have lived with ourselves for many years. We’ve celebrated many new years with ourselves and we all know that when the clock strikes midnight on the last of the year, nothing in us or around us changes. Nevertheless, we speak of changes to come. The question, of course, is “From where shall these changes come?”
We could respond with an excellent Sunday school answer and say, “From God.” but, again, real life will soon show us what Benjamin Franklin said 300 years ago: “God helps those who help themselves.” This is in agreement with Scripture, for St. James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” There is, I’m afraid, no story of a sleeping man in Scripture into whose mouth God dropped virtues like grapes. Our Lord himself spent sleepless nights in prayer, leaving us no example of the blessed sluggard. Solomon taught us, “The sluggard craves, yet does not have.” Jesus corrected his disciples in their cries of impotence with a blunt word: “You have not because you ask not.” In other words, “Who are you kidding? You lack strength because you do not do what is necessary to make yourselves strong.” Thus, the lazy Sunday school answer will do us no good.
If we will change in 2012, then we must change ourselves. Many make resolutions, but these resolutions are never worked into intermediate objectives, task lists, and schedules. If the same habits remain in our lives like deep ruts in a dirt road, how will we expect to not run right back into them as before? Making resolutions to avoid the ruts created by the normal course of travelers, will not free us from them. The dirt road must be turned up and leveled, stones must me added and the whole road pressed down anew. The resolution to ride smoothly requires that we get out of our carriage and fix the road, not simply resolve and keep riding. So, if we have made our resolutions–our dreamy goals of health, wealth and happiness–have we gone on to make our resolutions.
If one is resolved to watch less television in the new year. What is planned for the television hours of the past year? Will one sit in darkness, twiddling his thumbs to fulfill this resolution? Will one replace television viewing with video games? If the road is not fixed, the ruts will remain.
If one is resolved to lose weight or become more fit in the new year, what change has been planned to reduce the tongue’s desire or the body’s idleness? That same tongue remains and yours are the hands that served it last year. The couch and bed still remain, which held too much that lazy body last year. What change is being made to the road this year?
If one is resolved to pray more or read the Bible more in the new year, where will the time come from? Will God make the sun stand still this year that you may add to last year’s routine? What will be given up from last year? What new interest will drive new studies? What new passions will draw forth new prayers to God? Will the same man pray more? Will the same man read more? Will the same road suddenly have no more ruts?
Moreover, will changes last and form a new man in the new year? Or, will you merely speak of the old man with new words? Are the changes going to be given time and effort necessary to become habits? Will the old influences be removed and/or overcome? Or will your resistance slowly fade until they regain their former sway?
Yes, God will give us grace to make the changes that must be made. However, God does not work contrary to us, but collaborates with us. He forgives our sins, but we promise to avoid the occasion of them. He gives help, when we have exhausted our own natural resources. Prayer is super-natural and begins when the natural ends. What is assumed in our lives is that we are exerting our full natural effort to gain the things we claim to value. We have the faculty of reasons which bring many achievements into the reach of nature. We have a free will which, again, bring much into reach. We have the power and freedom to choose our companions, our work, our groceries, our activities, our lifestyle, our library–the choosing of which requires no super-natural help. When we thus draw near to God, He promises to draw near to us. Our Lord was helped by angels after fasting forty days and resisting the devils tests. He was given wisdom and help after spending nights without sleep in deliberation and prayer. The apostles were delivered from prisons and dangers by angels after getting into them by persevering in obedience and faith. The patriarchs received many of God’s promises and blessings after doing all that God had commanded them. Our Lord taught us of the man who learned of the pearl in the field–and what did that man do? He sold all that he had to buy that field. He did not lazily ask for it while keeping his old and inferior possessions. His faith was proven by his actions.
Therefore, before making any more promises or resolutions to ourselves. Let us ask, “Are we removing the sources and changing the courses which have led us to unhappiness?” Are we rolling up our sleeves and working to renew the road ahead of us? This will, after all, determine what happens in the new year and the proverb gives us both a promise and a warning:
“In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips leads only to poverty.”
The Roman poet Vergil said, “Labor vincit omnia.” and St. Benedict lived by the rule, “Ora et labora.” If we are resolved to anything in the new year, let it be to talk less and work more. For success in is the working, not the talking.
God grant your intentions and bless all of your labors this year!
William Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy