It’s the end of January, which means either you’re doing great with your resolutions, or you’ve already fallen off the wagon. Making New Year’s Resolutions is a venerable tradition, and it’s worthwhile to try to make proactive lifestyle changes.
However, changing the way you think about resolutions might help them last through the year. By redefining them as milestones or markers on a journey, you can focus on the things that will help propel you through the year and whatever God has next for you. That can involve either starting something new or making a necessary ending.
In thinking of resolutions this way, I believe there are three things that help us succeed in our resolve: purpose, a loose grip, and an abundance of grace. When we keep these points in mind, we’re far more likely not only to succeed, but also to thrive in meeting our goals.
1. Envision Your Purpose
In order to succeed, you need to envision the purpose behind your resolution. Kevin Plank always thought about how to make the next dollar. He sold T-shirts outside of concerts, bracelets outside of shows—you name it. This purpose didn’t have depth; it was only monetary. It wasn’t until he was sweating on the football field, and uncomfortable in his cotton T-shirt, that he found his purpose. He saw the need for a shirt made of material that absorbed sweat. So he made a product that would change the way athletes performed and recovered. After many successes and failures, questions and trials, he managed to create Under Armour—and invented the industry we now know as performance apparel. Plank found the purpose behind the sweat.
As Christians, we know that work is about more than just making a living. The Lord calls us to our vocations with purpose and has created us for meaningful work. Each and every person is uniquely gifted and thrives when given the opportunity to use those gifts in his or her vocation. Think about this deeply when determining your goals. What is the end, the telos, for which you are working? What is the purpose of this time? Is it aimed toward thriving in who God has created you to be?
2. Loosen Your Grip
When we have a clear purpose for ourselves, we tend to hold on to it for dear life. But that approach often goes badly. Have you ever heard about how to trap a monkey? If you put a banana in a jar with a small opening, the monkey’s hand will get stuck inside holding onto the food. They can easily free themselves if they let go of the banana, but they don’t want to lose their prize. And so it is for us. We have a purpose and then hold on to to it so tightly that we get stuck. We forget about what else is going on and focus on what’s in our hand at the moment, not realizing we’re trapped by it.
It seems contradictory, but in order to reach our markers, we must hold them loosely in our hands. We must pray that God would help us to remain focused on the objectives, even if the means don’t pan out exactly how we envisioned. Not every resolution is meant to be achieved.
In order to reach our markers, we must hold them loosely in our hands. . . . Not every resolution is meant to be achieved.
So when making goals with purpose, ask the Lord for a willing heart to let them go if necessary.
3. Remember Grace
Above all, there’s no more important component in reaching your markers than rooting yourself in grace. I don’t know a single individual who has succeeded in his or her goal without falling short many times, myself included.
Failure, mistakes, and shortcomings are natural. They keep us humble. As Christians, we have a deep well to draw from when moments of uncertainty rise to the surface.
The grace we experience from the Lord helps us deepen our love for him. Augustine of Hippo, arguably the most influential theologian in Western Christianity, grappled with this concept until his death. The weight of grace was a burden he couldn’t comprehend. He knew his mistakes and realized he didn’t deserve such grace from a holy and awesome God. Even on his death bed he had Psalm 51, the psalm of confession David wrote after sleeping with Bathsheba, written on his wall so he could recite it repeatedly. He was a man who knew the depths of his sin, humbling himself under the weight of the Lord’s powerful grace.
Of course it’s easy to look at Augustine and think he’s an incredible example. But we normal folk also feel the weight of grace in our everyday life. Saying “I’m sorry” and admitting our faults is one of the hardest things to do. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for grace and receive grace from someone else, or especially from God. It’s the great strength of the Christian to ask for and receive grace.
The purpose of making annual goals for ourselves is more than just achievement. We are little reflections of Christ, made in the image of God; and therefore, we bear a weight of responsibility. The way we make and pursue goals, hold them loosely, and embrace grace along the way all showcase the Savior, who exemplifies pursuing grace with unwavering commitment to his sheep.