A few weeks ago “Newsweek” featured the top 10 new year’s resolutions. The top five were “have more fun,” “relax and reduce stress,” “spend more time with family,” “eat better,” and “exercise more.” As the author noted, most of us start out with the best of intentions, but fail in our efforts within weeks.
I want to offer my top three spiritual resolutions for the new year. They are to 1) do less and be more, 2) wake up by slowing down; and 3) live with more gratitude.
Do Less and Be More
Every May at Drury I do my “growth plan review” to list all of my activities as a professor and chaplain over the past academic year. After more than 20 years of such reports, I have come to a conclusion. Growth is not always more. Sometimes it is less. I have seen this lesson in my own frenetic effort to cram as many activities into a day as possible only to find everything unraveling. I’ve seen it in students who work full-time while going to school full-time. They often miss papers, fail to study for tests, and then hate themselves for not being able to “do it all” on 4 hours of sleep a night. I understand its origin. We are all trying to succeed and in some cases just survive. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work and it might even be unfaithful. St. Paul tells us to live in a spirit of grace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us not to be anxious about our lives. To be who we are meant to be is to be a particular person with a particular set of abilities and a limited amount of time. We need to breathe, eat, pray, laugh, and live. Most of all we need to be ourselves and not try desperately to be someone else. This year may we do what we are called to do and nothing more.
Wake Up By Slowing Down
One of the most popular courses in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Drury is taught by my colleague, Dr. Lisa Esposito. It is called “Buddhism and the Joy of Being Awake.” For the Buddhist enlightenment emerges when a person awakens to the reality that is behind much of the illusion of our lives. One of the biggest illusions is the idea that fulfilling our desires will make us happy. Many new year’s resolutions fail because we desire a new state of being right now. A better way is to recognize the goal but slow down in achieving it. This Christmas my step-son James gave me a book on “Chi Running.” I have read a little section before going out on a running/walking schedule James has devised for me. On each run I have focused on keeping a relaxed form and moving slowly. I walk a minute and then run a minute, walk a minute and run another minute. The point is not the goal. It is the gentle, gradual building of habits that lead to a non-anxious transformation. By slowing down, focusing less on the distant goal (e.g. running a 5K at some point) than the present change in habits, and being patient, long-term transformation is far more likely.
Live with Gratitude
Most of all I pray that we all live with more gratitude this year. Years ago my friend Toby Meeker, a former medical ethicist at St. John’s Hospital, had a screen-saver with this message. “Begin with gratitude.” It was the first thing he saw when he turned on his computer in the office. I hope we will follow his good advice. When we give thanks for the ones we love, the meaningful work we get to do, and the opportunities for service we are given, we can begin to see the light. We have been given much. Beginning every day with thanks can bring great joy.
Have a happy new year and remember. Do less. Slow Down. Live with Gratitude. And know that you are not meant to do or be everything. God has a purpose for your life. Fulfilling that purpose – not the purpose given to others – may make all the difference.
May God’s blessings be with you in 2013.
All the best,