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Resolutions can be kept — if they come from serious examination of our nature

After my eighth Christmas, my mother told me about the importance of making plans to improve myself in the new year. 

I don’t remember all my resolutions, but two stand out. 

My parents had been on my case for months about biting my fingernails, and so the first resolution my mother had me write down was to stop during the next year. (It was not until I was 12 that I finally ended that bad habit.) 

The second resolution was to pray each morning and night as I brushed my teeth.

By the time I was in high school, I usually made up to 20 commitments about changes in my life. Through the years I have reduced my resolutions to a much smaller number because most involve more drastic changes in my life and character. 

Some resolutions have become standard practice. About the time I was 15, I resolved to read one new book each month. I’ve continued that resolution — with only minor omissions — since 1948. At times I read novels. At other times I read biographies or autobiographies. In the past 30 years, I have focused on books to help me have a clearer understanding of God or ways to strengthen my spiritual life. I already have a list of 12 books I want to read in 2016.

When I was in college, I made a resolution that I would keep a prayer journal because my prayer life was in sad condition. That practice was very important in helping me focus on praying my deepest thoughts. In the process, I learned to praise God in language that came from my experiences and my heart. 

I also learned to be careful about what I asked for, realizing God knows all and understands every situation better than I do. 
This past year my prayer journal was filled with prayers of thanksgiving for every wonderful experience that Joyce and I shared over more than 60 years.

In discussion with friends, many report that they don’t make resolutions because they keep them for only a brief time. I argue that we should only make resolutions about important practices involving our relationship and service to God, our relationships with others and alterations in our character and conduct.

Ideally, resolutions should come from a serious examination of our own nature. Earlier in my life I mainly listened to what my friends and family said to me about my behavior or my personality. Their criticisms and comments helped me become closer to God and more helpful to other people. They moved me from an introvert to a person more interested in other people, their ideas and their feelings. 

Almost the only time I brought God into my self-examination came at communion, following Paul’s encouragement that “a man out to examine himself before he eats of the bread or drinks of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28)

Two years ago I read Ruth Haley Barton’s “Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation ” and she gave me a better way of self-examination. It is a process of laying ourselves open to God, knowing he already fully knows us (our sins and weaknesses) and asking God to shine his light into all parts of our heart and mind so that we can see ourselves clearly and understand how we must change to become the person he wants us to be. She analyzes Psalm 139 (“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me”) to show how David opened himself to God in order to draw closer to him.

I am glad my mother taught me the importance of resolutions. Mine have changed my life and shaped who I am and how I develop. 
I realize that many people think that because they don’t keep their resolutions, the process is a waste of time. But it is never a waste of time to study your spirit and discern areas which need to improve.

CONTACT [email protected].

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Insight

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