We do it every year. We decide that we need to make a change, do something differently, shift our routine, make new commitments. But making a list of “New Year’s Resolutions” is not enough, we’ve found. We know ourselves well enough to realize that we often resist change, and we need a spiritual practice to reinforce our desired behavior.
The religious life gives us plenty of examples of this kind of practice. Christian monks and nuns take vows when they enter an order. Buddhist practitioners repeat vows regularly to express their ethics. Couples say vows as part of their commitment to each other at their weddings, and parents and the community covenant to care for a child’s religious education during a baptism.
We generally set an intention for a particular period of time, say if we are going on retreat or even on vacation, stating in concrete terms what we want to do and how we want to be during this time.
Our New Year’s resolutions are combination vows and intentions. We find that sharing them with each other or our spiritual communities gives them additional weight and adds momentum to our efforts. Here are some steps for making Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions.
l. Begin by spending some time in prayer and reflection about what is happening in your life, what changes you would like to make for yourself and those around you, and what might be the long-term consequences of this new direction. Ask God to help you sort through the desires that might be based on ego or vanity and those that will help you come closer to who you really are and your purpose in life.
2. Share this process with your partner, a good friend, your pastor, teacher, or spiritual director. Openly expressing your desire for change is another way of reinforcing it. Discussing your options encourages both hope and flexibility.
3. Next, write down your vows/intentions. You may have just one or a series of them, and they may be general or specific. We give some examples below.
4. After you have made your list, read it aloud to your partner, a good friend, or your spiritual community. There is real power in making commitments before others. Think of the ceremonies you have attended — baptisms, confirmations, weddings. You promise to uphold your vow, and those present make a commitment to support you.
5. Once you have made a vow, repeat it to yourself every morning.
Some of us do better with concrete vows. These sample vows recognize that in the beginning, it’s best to state small goals with a time limit that you know you can achieve. Whenever you complete a promise, you can see the value of making intentions and gain confidence in your will power.
1. Recognizing that my body is God’s temple, I promise to exercise for 20 minutes each day.
2. I promise to spend 1/2 hour a day in silence and prayer.
3. I promise to call my parents every week and check in directly with my siblings every month.
You may choose to work with more general vows, discovering how to fulfill them specifically as you go along. Below are 10 “Spiritually Literate New Year’s Resolutions” we have been working with for many years. They are based on the spiritual practices in the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. Click on the links to go to pages at Spirituality & Practice devoted to these practices; you’ll find many ideas on how you can explore them through books, movies, spiritual exercises, prayers, and more.
1. I will live in the present moment. I will not obsess about the past or worry about the future.
3. I will be thankful for all the blessings in my life. I will spell out my days with a grammar of gratitude.
4. I will practice hospitality in a world where too often strangers are feared, enemies are hated, and the “other” is shunned. I will welcome guests and alien ideas with graciousness.
5. I will seek liberty and justice for all. I will work for a free and a fair world.
6. I will add to the planet’s fund of good will by practicing little acts of kindness, brief words of encouragement, and manifold expressions of courtesy.
7. I will cultivate the skill of deep listening. I will remember that all things in the world want to be heard, as do the many voices inside me.
8. I will practice reverence for life by seeing the sacred in, with, and under all things of the world.
9. I will give up trying to hide, deny, or escape from my imperfections. I will listen to what my shadow side has to say to me.
10. I will be willing to learn from the spiritual teachers all around me, however unlikely or unlike me they may be.
(Download a poster of these Spiritually Literate New Year’s Resolutions.)