For 2017: Quit Resolutions, Develop a Rule of Life and Prayer

So You’ve Never Kept a Single New Year’s Resolution. Why?

It began just over a month ago on Thanksgiving in November, the gorging, the loosening of the belt after dinner, the “just one more” mentality. You said to yourself, “On January 1, I’m cutting calories, reducing the number of libations I sip or switching to lite beer and going back to the gym. You said all this knowing that the feasting would continue through the month of December: Christmas parties at the office, at church and at friend’s places. This would obviously continue on Christmas Eve (especially if you’re of Italian descent celebrating the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” like me); you’d wake up Christmas morning continuing the over-indulgence the entire day; and the climax of your debauchery would last into the early hours of January 1. Unfortunately, this pattern has repeated itself for years, especially the “promise” to turn a new leaf as the clock struck twelve on January 1. And as you look back over the years, your promise, your resolution, never seemed to materialize, or if it did, by Easter Sunday, you were loosening your belt once again. Maybe it’s time for a change?

If you’re like me, you’ve never kept a New Year’s resolution for 365 days. But we’re in good company, most people don’t keep them. According to a recent study, 88% of resolution-makers fail. Why? Because most New Year’s resolutions only consider one facet of life: the physical. Yet, as the Church Fathers have reminded us, humans are more than just physical beings with a collection of physical appetites. We’re spiritual beings also, with deep spiritual yearnings, desires and needs. In other words, human beings are embodied-souls! So, for 2017, how about beginning to deal with the entire person instead of half?

Human beings are embodied souls

While both a Rule of Life and a New Year’s resolution require a “promise” made, a Rule will include the grace received by God through the spiritual dimension of life; and it is nothing less than the Holy Spirit who provides such grace. Therefore, we never go at it alone once we’ve included the spiritual dimension (we’re dependent on the Holy Spirit in all that we endeavor to accomplish). But keep this one important distinction in mind: a Rule of Life is not simply an added prayer to a resolution (“God, please help me lose ten pounds”), but a pattern of living that is grounded in the spiritual. In other words, it is the beginning of an ascetic life, which simply means, a way of training one’s self spiritually the way an athlete trains for a competition.

What a Rule Is, Who to Do It with, and How to Do It  

What a Rule of Life is: A rule is something we measure things against. Therefore, a Rule of Life is something we measure our lives against. Moreover, a Rule of Life is flexible, especially when cooperated on with a Spiritual Director.

A Rule of Life is something we measure our lives against

Acquire a Spiritual Director: A Rule of Life should be built in cooperation with a Spiritual Director (Father or Mother), a person you can meet with quarterly (or better yet, monthly!). The quintessential Spiritual Father (Russian: starets) in literature in Zosima in the Brothers Karamazov. This person will provide counsel, direction and help adjusting your Rule when needed. The flexibility of your Rule is determined in counsel with your Spiritual Father or Mother. S/he can help determine if your Rule needs adjusting in certain seasons, because of newly acquired life-pressures, etc. In the same way a tape measure can be adjusted, sliding in or out, a Rule of Life should do the same if necessary.  

Four areas a Rule of Life should necessarily cover: While there are many programs for creating a Rule of Life, I want to share with you the one that has worked best for me.

  1. Praxis—Deals with both chronos and kairos time. Christians have historically sense two types of time: the day in and day out time, and the year in and year out time. The brushing your teeth three times a day time, and the celebration of anniversaries and birthdays kind of time. That’s the difference between chronos and kairos. Therefore, praxis is concerned with everything we do in life from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year: Prayer, diet, fasting, exercise, rest, celebrating feast days, etc. It asks: How am I being a good steward of the good things God has provided me with (time in general since I woke up this morning, refreshment, time with God in prayer, silences, food and drink/feasting or fasting, health and exercise, etc.).
  2. Texture in the Spirit—Your mindfulness of the presence of God in your life. This is sensed in different moments and in various ways: in the liturgy, sacramentally, in community, in prayer, when reading spiritual works, including the Bible, etc. It asks: Where/how do I sense the Spirit’s presence, or apophatically speaking, where/how do I not sense the Spirit’s presence? The apophatic question helps us grow.
  3. Theological Development—How you think through and imagine the classic areas of theology. Your Spiritual Director will help you fill in the gaps of your learning here by pointing you to readings and other ways of growing theologically. S/he should also press you to grow outside of your theological comfort zone. It asks: How do I understand who God is and what God has done? Allow yourself to be challenged keeping in mind that spirituality (unlike theology proper) involves the Christian imagination!
  4. Evolving Vocational Life—What God is calling you to be and do. This area is related narrowly to your career but more broadly to who you are as an image-bearer: a father, a wife, a child, a friend, a co-worker, etc. It asks: How can I represent God’s love and my hope in the gospel in every area of my life despite its ups-and-downs, despite life’s circumstance?

While developing a Rule of Life may look daunting at first glance, it is truly freeing! If done properly and with the help of a Spiritual Director, it provides a pattern for the spiritual life in a patternless, chaotic world. Don’t deal with half your person in 2016, deal with yourself body and soul by developing and Rule of Life and begin kicking the habit of making New Year’s resolutions that can’t be kept.

Happy New Year!

Matthew Paul Buccheri, MDiv, STM is a member of Calvary-St. George’s Episcopal Church in NYC, a former Assistant Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, the pastoral associate at St. Edward the Martyr in Manhattan, and the founder of Emmaus via Canterbury.