‘Tis the season for announcing resolutions for self-improvement. Since I am an eating disorders specialist, January is one of my least favorite times of the year – it involves hearing about everyone’s new ideas about what they are going to do to control their eating patterns. We know that about 95 percent of the time, dieting efforts fail and often result in weight gain rather than weight loss. Shakes, restriction of food groups, or overconsumption of one food (remember the grapefruit diet?) becomes the new promise of happiness and fulfillment, only to lead to an inevitable cycle of slowed metabolism and binge eating as nutritional and psychological deprivation sets in. All of our lofty aspirations soon crumble beneath the weight of a life that feels much more comforting with sugar, social media, wine, and sleep rather than an early morning workout routine or diet-induced irritability and hunger.
I cannot imagine Jesus chatting with the twelve disciples about New Year’s resolutions or making any himself. He seems to have more of a lifelong resolution, occurring on a grander scale that transcends seasons. He certainly has goals and does not lose sight of his overall purpose, even when everyone else dozes off while he sweats blood and prays he can avoid the cross. But Jesus’ resolution to eat less bread and fish or acquire a more toned physique is not something we find in the scriptures. As the bread of life (John 6:35, NRSV), he did not challenge listeners to contemplate going gluten-free or give up wine.
I have opportunities every week to learn from my clients. This week, I learned from one young woman as she expressed that she had chosen one word to orient herself toward better health and more peace rather than making a rigid behavioral resolution. Her word was “mindful.” I have a sense that this is more the type of resolution Jesus would suggest, if he were to suggest any type of resolution. Maybe for each of us, there is a prompt to hear today from the Holy Spirit in the form of one word. Perhaps it is “love” or “compassion” or “forgive.” Such spiritual values call us to embrace a collection of behaviors, attitudes, and steps of faith rather than boxing us into the rigidity of a controlled behavioral resolution steeped in vanity or control rather than true spiritual health.
Rather than calling for an announcement of intention, Jesus’ messages seemed to stir up action in the immediacy of a changed heart, or the moment of a shifting perspective. In response to Jesus, Zacchaeus climbs down (Luke 19:6, NRSV), Peter and Andrew leave their fishing nets (Matt. 4:20, NRSV), and a Samaritan woman seeks “living water” (John 4:10-11). My sense is that they weren’t prompted by their calendars as much as their hearts. They moved in the rhythm with renewed minds and changed hearts to seek more than a sober January. They took immediate steps toward lasting change. They experienced a radical reorientation of priorities, not a self-generated New Year’s resolution.
Whether it’s January 28, February 13, or March 22, I pray that you’ll listen for the stirring of Jesus’ love and truth in your heart, resolving to make changes in the immediacy of his timing that transcends the day and month. When his love moves you to action, go and make disciples. Go and sin no more. Go make restitution for the ways you’ve hurt others. Skip the announcements of intention. Instead, embrace a changed heart and the inevitable actions that freely flow from it.
What can we learn from Jesus about the start of a New Year? Maybe that it is another day, important as any day, to respond to Jesus’ command to love rather than resolve.
Angela D. Schaffner, PhD, is the author of. A licensed counseling psychologist and eating disorders specialist, Angela is also a black belt in Taekwondo. She and her husband have three sons.
"When I became a parent, I struggled to find God within the chaotic world where I now lived. I was used to contemplative prayer, to silence and service and listening for God’s still, small voice in quiet, hidden spaces. Suddenly none of my life felt quiet or hidden – it was all loud, messy, and exposed." Discover more.