A New Year - a new commitment
The Rectory, January 1997
The making of New Years resolutions is not perhaps as much a feature of bringing in the New Year as it used to be. It may be that the idea has become trivialised and that any resolutions we do make are not entirely serious - more the after-effects of Christmas! No more chocolates, more exercise, get up early or whatever. They may of course be more serious. The holiday time, though hectic, can be a time to reflect and be aware of how tired or lonely one has become; how neglectful of friends, neighbours, family, oneself, or God. Making a New Years resolution may be one way of attempting to address some of these. But perhaps they are couched in rather general terms:
They work while we remember them, but because they are general they are easily forgotten and their idealism fails under a welter of inertia or overactivity. Soon we are back into the old routines and habits, and the idea of resolutions has been discredited for another year. Nevertheless, the New Year is not a bad time for some taking stock and for beginning the year with new intentions which flow from a realistic assessment of where I am and what I need to do about my life. I know someone who instead of partying wildly on New Years Eve uses it as a quiet time to reflect upon the past year and to refocus their priorities for the coming year. That is not a bad idea, even if you still wouldnt miss the party bit.
In these days when the secular world is taking on board, almost obsessively, the idea of audits and appraisals we might remind ourselves that such concepts have been integral to Christian discipleship for many centuries. It has been the custom to undertake a review of ones Christian life from time to time. This is traditionally what Advent and Lent are about. But the New Year can also provide an opportunity to review the past year, reflect on how to live out ones discipleship in this coming year, and make some specific and realistic commitments in the light of prayerful reflection. I think it is important to stress that any commitments (like New Year resolutions) should be realistic and specific, otherwise they will not outlast January or even the end of the holidays.
A rule of life
Some people have found some sort of rule of life helpful in charting how they might express their faith in daily life. A rule of life is something each person must work out for themselves, and cannot be imposed. Again, a rule of life must be realistic and specific so as to avoid setting oneself up to fail, or indulging in ineffective generalities and good intentions. Where a rule of life can be helpful is in preventing our Christian life drifting into casual observance, unfulfilled intentions, or something to be thought about and attended to only when all the more pressing and clamorous demands of life have been met.
What is a rule of life? Well, it is a way of working out your Christian commitment in relation to various areas of your life. So you might decide how much time you can realistically give to prayer and quietness. It might work out to be a period of time, however short, on a daily basis or perhaps it might be more realistic to commit oneself to something on a weekly basis. How frequently will you join with the community of faith, the church, to worship and receive communion - weekly, fortnightly, or monthly? Whatever you decide it becomes a priority, not just a matter of "if there is time". Other areas to explore would be time for bible and spiritual reading, the level and nature of giving, commitment to Gods work in the world, and being part of the life of the church. Again, whatever you decide becomes a priority, not just something desirable all other things being equal. Against this it is also important not to make the rule utterly inflexible, not to get fixated about keeping the letter of it. It is to be a support, not another requirement. "Rule" may not be the best word to use, in fact - perhaps "guideline" would be better. The intention however is to be specific, realistic and committed.
Another aspect that must not be forgotten is that such a rule or guideline is not just about oneself, nor just oneself and God. It is also about being the Church. It is a way of expressing the commitment we have to one another in the Body of Christ. It is not possible for us to be the Body of Christ at St Peters if we cannot in some sense rely on each other. If we are careless in the way we think about our faith, or casual in our commitment, then we are treating each other casually and carelessly. A rule helps us recognise and honour each other.
Why not turn the idea of New Year resolutions to effective use, and use this time to reflect on your life and commitments, your needs and obligations, and how you work out your discipleship in everyday life?