Sunday, January 05, 2014

New Year Aspirations?

From time to time I have done the 'resolutions' thing, usually with limited success. I find they are generally either too specific  - so even one 'failure' essentially negates the whole thing and causes me to give up - or too general, so that it's hard to see any progress or change, and I tend to forget about them.

So I wasn't going to bother this year.

But I couldn't get over the nagging feelings that - as always - it would be good to be a bit healthier, to spend less time on Facebook, to get back to writing (something I tend to do in fits and starts) and to work on my long-neglected websites. I also felt quite frustrated that in the whole of 2013 I only managed to read 72 books. In 2012 I managed 90, and thought that bad enough. In previous years I aimed for more than 100. So, I thought, I would aim to read more in 2014.

Then I had the idea of 14 different general things to aim for in 2014.

But not resolutions. I wanted another word. The obvious one is 'intentions', but the road to hell is supposedly paved with good ones, and I certainly didn't plan on bad ones. 'Aspirations' is the best I could come up with.

Yes, they're fairly general. That leaves plenty of room for interpretation and flexibility. And no, I'm not going to list them. This is more of a meta-post about why a new year seems so significant to so many people. We're now five days into 2014, and I've already finished reading two books (though admittedly both were started in the last week of 2013, and neither was long). I've even worked for a few hours on one of my websites, and done about 6000 words of writing. I'm trying to get through my 'to-do' list each day rather than continually procrastinating, and so far have mostly succeeded.

For five days.

I'm told it takes about 30 days to develop new habits, so January is as good at time as any to come up with new habits - whether exercising, or eating differently, or writing, or whatever it happens to be. Five days is a sixth of that. Can I continue until the end of the month? I hope so.

Which doesn't begin to answer the question of 'Why January?'

Advent Sunday is officially the start of the Church's new year, but - at least for me - it would be a very difficult time to start a new habit, or come up with anything other than a focus on Christmas. Even keeping it very low-key, mostly organised before December, I was aware of the build-up, the anticipation, the things to do so that I could take a few days to relax and try to remember Jesus, born in poverty, for our sake.

Lent is another time for new beginnings, although it's usually thought of as a time to give up bad habits temporarily. Lent has forty days, so theoretically a new 'good' habit could be formed in that time, but for many people, as is traditional, the end of Lent signifies a return to indulgence and excess.

September is the new 'academic year', at least in most of Europe and North America. I remember having good intentions at the start of each school year, determined to study more, to take my education more seriously. I usually gave up by about the end of the first week. I like Septm

The Chinese new year will be celebrated at the end of January. I suppose February could be a good time for a new set of new 'resolutions' for those who fell at the first post on January 1st.

And that brings us back to this time of year, when so many people resolve, 'this year will be better'. Perhaps it's just the tidiness of starting a new calendar. Or the hopeful feeling that comes as the days start getting longer after the winter solstice. Or maybe it's just tradition...

So, I will probably continue having new ideas, hopes, intentions, yes, even resolutions at the start of each new year.

But as I've grown older, I've become more aware that  - in a sense - it doesn't actually matter if I don't keep them. God loves me anyway. He loves me even more than my closest friends and relatives do. A whole order more, in fact. He runs out to meet me when I turn to him, and he forgives my greatest sins and failings.

He has done all that already... so while I know that it's good to follow his leading, and spend my days constructively, and look after my health, these and other 'good intentions' are indeed a potential path away from God if I see them as anything more than useful ideas, from which I can deviate if God has something more important.

And even if I fail in every one of my hopes for 2014, even if I am unhealthier, lazier and even less productive a year from now, God still loves me anyway.


The irony is that, free to be fully myself, free in the knowledge that I am not bound by any laws or traditions or requirements, I am actually a whole lot more likely to follow God's leadings and promptings. 

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