Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If so, you are not alone, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. Forty-one percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only 9 percent are successful in achieving all or part of their goals. I’m sure that I’m not alone in abandoning many New Year’s resolutions through the years! Most of us make lists of our New Year’s resolutions and resolve that this year will be the one when we finally get rid of those stubborn extra pounds, become financially healthier and maybe learn a new skill or two.
Once in a while, we make a transformative change that travels with us from one year to another but as the year goes by, most of our New Year’s resolutions fall to the wayside and we slip into old patterns and familiar routines. Part of the reason is that our New Year’s resolutions often only focus on three areas of our lives — physical, emotional and mental health — and we never get to the root of the issues. Our spiritual health is often neglected in favor of focusing on these three areas. This is topsy-turvy! Research has found that those who have high levels of spiritual wellness experience increased physical, social and emotional health.
Our spiritual health could be likened to the roots of the tree of our life. By focusing only on the branches of our tree we will see some change but not at the level that is needed for true nourishment and renewal. Nourishing the roots of our tree means healthier leaves and a sturdier tree in general. It is important to remember that unless we address the real reasons behind our need for change, we are often just “window dressing” the core issue that is at the root of our need to change.
For example, a resolution that is always on my list is to “eat healthier,” which in itself is a noble goal. But once I reflected on this, I realized that this resolution was less about what I was eating and more about what was “eating me.” Stress, guilt, worries and mindless time wasting are all things that eat away at our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health. Instead of focusing on simply eating healthier, I began to focus on the distractions in my life that were eating away at my spiritual health. I began to get to the root of the issue.
The mindless snacking on social media chatter that I was engaging in at night, for example, left little time to go for a walk and so I made a decision to look at how I was using my time and resolved to use it differently. I began to set aside time for prayer and reflection (often while walking late at night or early in the morning) and found myself to be more at peace.
Little by little, all the places that I filled with snacking were filled with something else — silence, simplicity and time for reflection. Did I change some of my eating habits? You bet! But I also came to the realization that, by doing the core work of nourishing the roots, my spiritual life would change every area of my life, slowly but surely.
The world tells us that we don’t need God to help ourselves, that we can do it all and have it all without him. So each year, we lurch from one resolution to the other without very much changing in our lives. Just like you cannot read a book when it is an inch away from your face, so too, we need to step back and look at our spiritual lives to get to the root of lasting change.
As you consider making changes in your life this year, an essential question to reflect upon is, “What is the ONE thing that I want to let go in order to be at peace or truly happy?” Start with this question in mind and prayerfully ask the Lord to help you to answer this question. Focus not on the branches of your tree, but on the roots of your spiritual health.
A New Year can mean a “new you” if you invite into this conversation the Lord who tells us, “Behold, I make all things new”(Rev 21:5).
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization. She is the author of “Developing Disciples of Christ” and co-author of “The Catechist’s Backpack.”