Perhaps you’ve given up on New Year’s resolutions. The exact figure of those who keep them will probably never be known, but it’s probably a fair bet that half of us or even more don’t keep them – which means half of us probably do, at least for a while. And that’s Good News: an encouragement to keep making them. New Year’s resolutions have a lot in common with the process of conversion.
I would like to offer you some thoughts on this over the next few weeks because the whole theme of ‘getting back to normal’ in the Christian context is actually about conversion. The ‘norm’ is life in Christ, and that means that the normal for us Christians is growth (which is why the priest wears green during the ‘ordinary’ time of the year).
We have seen his glory
At the centre of all of this is the revelation of God in Christ. The Liturgy of the Word over the next couple of weeks gives us two key moments: The Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding Feast at Cana. What we see in these ‘instances’ is so important for our growth in Christ.
I am not a spiritual director, a psychologist, or a life coach (God forbid). What I write here is simply from my own experience, informed by my own reading, and advice from others that I’ve found useful. I continually go through this process, so finally all I have to offer is companionship. I shall also make some suggestions, from time to time, about writers who can tell you more.
I haven’t done much research on resolutions but let’s start with the obvious. For someone’s good intentions to pave the way to heaven rather than hell they need a strong motivation, an achievable goal, and support from family, friends, and from others who share their objectives.
I’ll start with motivation and one aspect of motivation: emotional or affective motivation. Motivation comes from recognizing the need to change. Recognition can come after a long process, or a short sharp shock (or usually some combination of the two). Either way, we know that we can’t continue on the path we’re walking.
Surprised? Not really
Sometimes we are surprised by someone we know leaving a relationship, a job or a whole way of life. It seems to come from nowhere. It doesn’t. It’s usually the result of months, if not years, of build-up, of dissatisfaction and often unhappiness, whether the person has acknowledged it or not.
They feel hemmed in, or are aware at some level that they are looking for something different. Even in today’s liberated world, people conform to others’ expectations, and it is only after realizing that they don’t want to continue to do that, or it isn’t them, that they change.
At the affective level, we feel physically and emotionally uncomfortable with our present state of affairs – or our doctor does! We are agitated, discontent, or see someone else who seems to be happier with their lot, or to whom we are attracted.
When we feel the need to change, we often attempt it right away without a plan. And we fail more often than not. We haven’t remembered the old adage, emotions are good messengers but bad guides.
Emotions can tell us that there is something wrong, but for a real change to take effect – note the difference – we need to go through a process. Let’s not rush, let’s just take our time.
If we don’t, then we are in danger of running from a cage into a straightjacket because of the relief that we feel at being ‘free’. Please don’t move!
Put yourself in touch with your feelings and don’t be afraid. Spend some time just accepting the way you feel without trying to avoid it, or saying to yourself that you shouldn’t feel this way. Give your feelings over to God.
It’s always important that we give to God, and we don’t try to keep anything from him. If all we have today is our anger, or discontent or a feeling that there is more to this life than we’re currently experiencing, give it to him.
This starts the process of conversion.