First question: Do you usually make a New Years Resolution? Second question: Do you keep it? If you’re like 91% of the resolution-making population, the answer to the latter question is a sheepish and humbling “no”.
I’ve always loved making New Years Resolutions. As a self-professed perfectionist, I love the clean slate a new year provides, the opportunity to start again, to be better, to finally get it right. To improve my French, use my time better, write the novel, lose the weight. But I, like 80% of the resolution-making population, usually lose my resolve by the middle of February. By the end of the year, my French is no better, my time has been wasted, the novel is unwritten, and the extra weight is… unlost.
There are plenty of tips online on how to keep your New Years Resolutions (be realistic, take baby steps, make a concrete plan, etc.), but why not try asking for extra help with keeping your resolution this year from my favourite saint for getting things done: St. Teresa of Avila? She has plenty of advice for those of us who want to make – and keep – a resolution in the new year.
Be a Giver, not a Lender
“Souls which lack generosity are not large hearted enough to give. They only lend.”
“From the very beginning,” St. Teresa of Avila advises, “you must be resolute. When we decide to give anything (such as an effort to be recollected in prayer) to Him Who has given us so much and yet are not resolute, we are really lenders. We expect to get our gift back.”
Yikes. Teresa goes on to give an example: say we’ve resolved to give God “a brief period” of our time in prayer. “Give it freely, and resolve never to take it back”, no matter what obstacles (a noisy home, a busy day, a pile of work, or simply a lack of desire) we face. Any resolution to grow in virtue (whether it’s the virtue of curiosity to learn a new skill, the virtue of perseverance to get fit, or the virtue of good use of time to become more productive at work) is a gift to God, Teresa suggests, and when we don’t follow through because of our loss of interest, effort, generosity, or resolve, we take back the gift. We are not givers, but merely lenders, lending our time, wonder, effort, or self-control to God, until we need it back.
The Resolve is the Reward
“Let the soul bend its will if it wishes that prayer be beneficial to it.”
New Years Resolutions are, in general, outcome-driven. I resolve to lose ten pounds. I resolve to read one book a month. I resolve to stop smoking. Teresa of Avila suggests that it’s not the intended outcome (the good habit established, or the bad habit broken) that will have the greatest impact, but the act of keeping our promise that will have the greater benefit to our lives, and our souls. The positive consequences of our resolution (as nice as they might be) benefit us little “in comparison with how much greater the benefit is when our deeds conform to what we say in prayer.”
More Than Words
“It is necessary that your foundation consist of more than prayer and contemplation. Strive for the virtues and practice them!”
The end of 2018 marks the end of my year with St. Teresa of Avila. Next year, I’ll choose a new saint to learn about, and learn from. This also marks the end of my year working on the virtue of Conquering Spirit; next year, it will be something new, like Kindness or Piety, or (God forbid) Self-Denial. If I had to sum up my Year of Conquering in one concise Avila quote, it would be to “Hear the word of God and DO IT!” Conquering Spirit is about prayer followed up with action, and action always preceded by prayer.
“If His Majesty showed us His love by means of such works and frightful torments, how is it that you want to please Him only in words?”, asks Teresa of Avila, to which I have no good answer. “It benefits me little,” she continues, “to be alone making acts of devotion to our Lord, proposing and promising to do wonders in his service, if I then go away and, when the occasion offers itself, do everything the opposite.” Instead, may our deeds conform to what we resolve in prayer.
“Never forget to strive for improvement,” St. Teresa of Avila was once told, by none other than God Himself. Whether or not you make a New Years Resolution, may the new year find you always striving for improvement, pressing forward, challenging yourself to live and love better. After all, “Love, where present, cannot possibly be content with remaining always the same.”