I’ve been looking forward to this new year, eagerly anticipating the calendar change, setting my hopes on a new digit in the “year” column making all things new. I’m not sorry to see 2015 slip away. I hear the drumbeat, steady and rising, propelling me forward: We can do better. We can do better. We can do better.
There are logical places in the calendar year that are invitations to hope. The beginning of the school year is a fresh, unwritten page. Advent brings with it the knowledge that the universal church begins again. The most wide-open space of all is New Year’s Day. Christmas has all the feel of the culmination of the year, and most mothers find the week after Christmas a natural suspension of time for rest and recovery after the effort of making a holiday merry. We tie up loose ends. Then, we look ahead in hope.
But if the year just passed has been a bit of a struggle, hope meets fear at the turn of the year and they wrestle for the vision that will shape the next 366 days (this year has a lovely grace day bonus). Fear threatens it all. What if this year is no different from last year? What if I am forever stuck in this place of discouragement? What if we can’t do better?
Cease striving. He’s God. (Ps 46:10) He can make all things new. Lean in and trust Him. All those things you hope for this new year? All the ways you want it to be better than last year? Put them at the foot of the cross. Trust Him with them. Then, resolve to live anew in His mercy.
Mercy makes all the difference.
We stand before the threshold of a new calendar year, having just thrown open the jubilee doors and stepped into the Year of Mercy. This is the year the church has set aside to wash us in compassion. This is the year the church has set aside for us to do the works of mercy that bring relief to the souls and bodies of our neighbors. Mercy is like oxygen, though. You can’t extend it to others without first being merciful to yourself. None of those resolutions, none of your fondest wishes for this year to be different stand a chance unless and until you live mercy inside your own skin.
That fear of being forever stuck? It is fueled by your unwillingness to meet the merciful Jesus and surrender. May I suggest just three resolutions which you might try, three resolutions which can open the floodgates of grace in the year of mercy?
Give the first five minutes of your day to God. Longer would be better, because this time is His lavish gift to you and you really do want to fully unwrap it, but start small. Give Him five minutes. Spend five minutes, first thing in the morning in His word. Flip open a bedside Bible. Pray Morning Prayer on the Divine Office app. Read the Mass reading of the day and a very brief devotion on Blessed is She. There are many, many aids out there to help you settle into the habit of listening to God before anything else. Those five minutes will fuel your day. Those five minutes will bring about the change you so desperately want.
The second resolution requires a bit more planning and perhaps more courage. Go to confession once a week. Frequent confession helps us to identify those sins we commit over and over again. Beyond identifying them, confession helps us to see the patterns which nurture the sins. For instance, I go to confession and I confess (again) that I am irritable and short-tempered and fearful. In the course of conversation in the confessional, the priest recognizes that for me, sleep deprivation is the near occasion of sin. If I don’t want this year to be the same as last year, I’m going to have to sleep more and sleep better. Further, I am going to have to exercise and to eat right because those two things affect my sleep and my mood and so they affect how I live in the world.
The third resolution is more difficult. It’s the Year of Mercy. Our first instinct is to ask how to bring mercy to others. May I suggest that the best way is to extend mercy to yourself first? Loving Jesus and loving others as Jesus loved us begins with accepting ourselves. My struggle this year has been with disappointment, and that disappointment has been a fire fueled by judging too harshly.
We cannot fully love others unconditionally until we love ourselves unconditionally. We cannot love ourselves until we extend to ourselves genuine mercy. If inside our heads, we have a running critical dialogue with ourselves, chances are we are going to judge others just as harshly. We find ourselves lacking, we see our faults, and then we look around and we begin to identify the faults of others in order to make ourselves feel better. That paradigm keeps us stuck in last year’s muck. When we accept ourselves and when we resist the urge to try to be superior to our neighbor and instead extend grace and mercy, we are open and receptive to Him. At last, we will have the strength and grace we need to effect real change in the new year.