The New Year, for a lot of us, marks a great starting point for growth, transformation, and change. But why is it that so many of us, elated with the idea of becoming better versions of ourselves, allow for those desires to fizzle out just a few months into the New Year? How do we stick to our goals?
I mentioned before how I never really make New Year resolutions. I have always felt that they were kind of useless. It wasn’t so much about me never trying to accomplish these things, but it always seemed silly and unrealistic to give myself set dates and goals for them just because everyone else does that. I’d give myself passes and excuses as to why accomplishing my goals within a set amount of time was unrealistic and a waste of time. I always fell back on the fact that I am a busy stay at home mom, I already do a lot, and if I want to accomplish these things…well, I’ll get to them eventually, when I’m ready.
I think what it comes down to, though, is that I was allowing myself to be moved more by fear and apathy than anything else. The big problem was that the stirrings to better myself remained, but what were planted and put into action instead of achieving these goals were the seeds of jealousy and envy. So often I would look around at all of the other women (many of whom are busy moms like me) who accomplish amazing things, then think to myself: Well it must be nice. She must have a lot of help to be as fit as she is. She must be very wealthy since she started her own company. She must have a fleet of nannies. She must have a lot of things that I do not. But these were all lies I was telling myself. Instead of recognizing the incredible amount of work these women put into the things that they were accomplishing, I rested in these falsehoods. They were the reasons why I didn’t have to set new goals and work my butt off towards accomplishing the things I still feel called to do.
If we look back to the very beginning in Scripture, we see right away man’s first encounter with the Devil. Adam and Eve were created and placed within the Garden of Eden, and within this environment, they were perfectly happy: they experienced harmony with their surroundings; fulfillment in their work; perfect unity and love with one another; and a clear unity with God—in both their intellects and wills. Then the Devil enters and immediately begins using fear and doubt as a tool to manipulate them. He conned their hearts into believing that they could be better people—more fulfilled and happier—if they stepped away from God’s law and relied on their own thoughts, separated from him. He instilled doubt and fear in them, and as we know, Adam and Eve followed the insinuations of the Devil. In doing so, they removed themselves from the good grace of God and all that he had given them that was good and holy.
Two fruits given, one sweet…one bitter
I think it is vitally important to recognize that we are still a part of that story. Here we remain today, longing for what we lost in the great Fall (a sense of accomplishment, fulfilment, unity with our Creator and with one another) and in our movement to find our way back, each one of us is met with the Devil’s RESISTANCE.
Today, most of our impulsive and immediate desires are easy to fulfill, and we live in an age in which we can have what we want when we want it. We are presented with endless amounts of entertainment—catered to our own particular interests—to keep us busy and generally happy. The problem is that deep down, we are all greatly restless. Our hearts are always seeking for something more—something greater to fill the void. Often times, the things we fill it with are those things that don’t make us better people, and because we find a certain level of contentment in them, we end up becoming apathetic with our state and fearful of the work it takes to reach greater heights. This is a big problem, because when we rest in this apathy and fear, letting our self-doubts control us, we remain unchanged and our lives become sterile.
Jennifer Fulwiler talked about the word resistance in one of her podcasts this week. She talked about her resolutions and how she was slowly beginning to realize that when you want to accomplish something good (no matter what it may be) you are almost always inadvertently faced with resistance. She explained that this is why, when you go to find your shoes to work out, you may get distracted and then end up feeling defeated about it all and give up before you even begin. This is also what happens when you are trying to complete a diet, and all you can think about is desert and reasons to go back to your old way of living. I think we have all felt resistance at some point in our lives. I know I feel it every time I sit down to write, when I’m immediately confronted with feelings of insecurity and doubt in myself and my abilities.
It is very important to put a name and face to this resistance, because ultimately, it is the Devil’s great tool to pull us out of growth and transformation. The kinds of doubts, thoughts, and distractions that enter our minds that are motivated by fear and apathy are all the whisperings of the one who doesn’t want our advancement. He wants us to remain right where we are at. He wants us to be lukewarm people, who move through life without any real cares in the world. He wants us to be apathetic, lazy, and unaccomplished, and he will actively get in our way to prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.
The important and key thing to keep in mind, though, is that resistance isn’t a one-sided phenomenon. The dictionary defines resistance as “the attempt to prevent something by action or argument” (this would be the devil’s attempts to move us through fear and doubt), but at the same time resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something.” This is where we enter. The devil will consistently pull at our lives, calling us in directions that seem attractive yet lead us into dark corners, but our job is to pull back. If we don’t, what we are ultimately doing is giving in. Each one of us has an opportunity for greatness, and we have to ask ourselves: In this cosmic battle, who is going to give in? Me, or him?
So, how do we strengthen ourselves for this fight?
The best place to start is by asking what would Jesus do?
Jesus had his own battle with the Devil when he entered into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for his great mission. After the 40 days, he was confronted with the temptations that were a resistance to his main goal of complete obedience and faithfulness to God. It is important to note that though he was fully divine, he was also fully human, and in his humanity Jesus experienced everything that we do as humans (all, except sin). This means that Jesus knew what it meant to be hungry, exhausted, warm/cold, and lacking energy. Christ felt all of this in his physical form, but by uniting himself with the will of the Father through prayer, he was able to crush the insinuations of the devil before they had any chance to take root in his heart. The Devil played to Jesus’ humanity: Come on Jesus, I know your hungry, tired, and weak…But you’re God! Make food for yourself! Save yourself! Worship me, I will bail you out! All of these efforts of the Devil were made to thwart Jesus from his big picture: to pour himself out in love for all of humanity, on the cross. Through prayer and fasting, Jesus was able and ready to encounter and WIN the resistance of the evil one. To say no to him, and yes to his mission.
So, that is where we start. We look at the actions of Christ when he was confronted with fear and doubt, and we put his examples of faithfulness, obedience, and discipline into action in our own life.
What can we do?
–Fast and pray. Both are essential to true growth and transformation in the faith, because what you do with your body has an impact on your soul, and what you do with your soul has an impact on your body. Strengthening them is a great way to change how you choose to live each day and work towards the heights that you are inspired to reach. Fasting and prayer helps us break free from being slaves to our bodies and to our apathetic spirits. If our bodies are not strong, and if our spirits are not shaped by Christ’s guidance, we will have a harder time fully accomplishing and saying yes to our missions.
– Recognize when thoughts of doubt, fear, or apathy are entering into your mind, and work hard to resist them. Recognize that these are seeds planted by the evil one who wants you to fail and give up before you even begin. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in your resolve to get things done.
-Focus on the process, not the end result. If we focus on the day to day work we have to accomplish to attain our goals, we will progress. Most of us want to reach the top of the mountain, but we forget that we have to climb to get there.
I’ll leave you with some words from Saint Jose Maria Escriva, which I think prove useful in this battle:
“Give in? Be just commonplace? You, a sheep-like follower, you were born to be a leader! Among us there is no place for the lukewarm. Humble yourself and Christ will kindle in you the fire of love.”