Why should I make any New Year’s Resolutions? I never keep them.
Why do our resolutions so often fail?
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 we 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?
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?
What about my resolutions?
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 than making bold promises. We’ll ask our Lord to purify our desiring. We will ask for the grace to be drawn into the pattern of Jesus’ loving and forgiving. We’ll 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 open our hands in prayer and 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, our way of seeing our role in the world or hear the cry of the poor day after day by strengthening our own 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.