You’ve heard it before: New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail.
And of course, what are the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year? They all have something to do with exercising more or losing weight.
Thanks to data from fitness-focused social network Strava, we even know the exact date in which such resolutions will probably fail: January 19.
According to a recent CNA commentary by a physiologist, the main culprit for exercise-related resolutions not living past a month isn’t due to lack of willpower.
Rather, it’s due to too much willpower. Willpower that causes one to overtrain, and then to acquire injuries because the body is subjected to too much stress, too quickly.
This got me thinking: Could this apply to other resolutions as well? Even spiritual ones? I believe so.
STEP 1: OPEN YOUR BIBLE
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this: Just open your Bible.
Many moons ago, my youth pastor told us that if we weren’t reading our Bibles regularly, then we could start by making our Bibles more accessible. Literally.
It goes like this: Get your Bible (or get a Bible, can’t skip this part), put it next to your bed and open it up.
The idea behind advice like this is to eliminate as many little barriers towards your goal as possible.
I suppose the Chinese proverb that every hiker knows is true: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
At first, leaving my Bible open next to my bed led to me reading just a verse or half a chapter daily.
Fast-forward to the present, and I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover twice. Some days I read only a chapter or a Psalm, but other days I try to read the shorter books (like the Epistles) in one sitting.
I suppose I’ve built some kind of “spiritual muscle” over time. Passages that were harder to understand in the past are a little clearer to me now that I understand their broader contexts.
TLDR: Build small habits that will lead to big gains.
STEP 2: START WITH THE SIMPLEST OF PRAYERS
Another thing I learned that’s been super helpful in my spiritual journey has been the Jesus Prayer.
It’s a prayer (Luke 18:13) that’s been around for more than 1,500 years and it goes like this:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
That’s it. In this simple prayer you have a declaration of Jesus’ supremacy, divinity and sonship, which is followed by a plea for His grace and mercy as we acknowledge our sinfulness.
There have been times when I’ve felt so far away from God — so lost — that this prayer was the only prayer I was able to mutter. Some days, this prayer felt like the thinnest of threads for me to hold on to.
And as I prayed it, I was reminded that my survival (physical, mental or spiritual) wasn’t dependent on me holding on to God. It was dependent on God holding on to me.
Want to start praying more regularly but don’t know where to start? Why not try the Jesus Prayer, or even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)?
Remember. Small steps lead to big gains.
WHAT IF I FAIL?
The beauty of building small and simple habits to achieve your goals is that you become good at the most important thing: starting.
This means that if you ever fail or lose momentum, you’re now a pro at doing the only thing that can get you back on track: starting again.
Say you’ve stopped reading your Bible for a couple of days. No worries. Open up your Bible and place it next to your bed.
No need to feel guilty or ashamed and beat yourself up for failing your resolution. Because what matters is that you get good at starting small. What matters is that you’ve gotten good at trying again.
Sadly, our society stigmatises failure a little too much. Survivorship bias and social media also means that we too often see the successes of others rather than their failures.
Instead, how about we learn to encourage one another based on the little changes we make in our lives? And how about we learn to celebrate those who have wandered off the path but have taken the smallest of steps to come back?
Imagine this: You haven’t seen someone in church for ages and suddenly, he or she is back on a random Sunday.
Instead of exclaiming, “Wah, you haven’t come to church in a while! What happened to you?”, say: “It’s so good to see you back again. It doesn’t matter how long you’re back for. I’m glad you’re here.”
HOW GOD SEES YOU
Hey, this is starting to sound just like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, doesn’t it?
I love how he (the wayward son) had no lofty ambitions when he decided to go back to his father. He just wanted to go back as a hired servant (Luke 15:19). But you know what happens next.
The father celebrates the return of the son lavishly, totally out of proportion to what the son was hoping for. And I think that’s why many prefer to call this the Parable of the Prodigal (wasteful) Father instead.
I suppose one of the reasons why it’s hard for us to stick to our resolutions is that we think we fail when we’ve stopped doing what we set out to do. Instead, I believe that as long as we keep starting over, trying again, we’re okay.
Count the small steps you’ve taken towards a healthier, more spiritual, better you and celebrate those as big wins. Because you best believe that our Father in heaven is celebrating those too.
THINK + TALK
- What is one resolution you have for the new year? How can you reduce it to the smallest step possible?
- Do you feel like a failure when you can’t keep your resolutions? How does the parable of the Prodigal Son (or Father) speak to you?
- Do you know of someone who is taking small steps towards being a better person? Find a way to encourage and celebrate with him/her!