Its that time of the year when we all resolve to be better people, look after ourselves more or just plain commit to do things we have not had time for last year. Most of us know that the resolutions we make will not be kept. By Valentine’s day we have forgotten, discarded or just plain ignored them.
Resolutions that stick must be incorporated into our spiritual disciplines.
First they should be made prayerfully, in a place of deep listening where we open ourselves to the spirit of God to speak into our lives and steer our course for the coming year. Regular evaluation in a place of deep listening is essential if we really want to take our resolutions seriously.
This year I have developed what I call the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. system (adapted from the SMART system I shared last year)
Be Specific: Don’t say “I want to deepen my prayer life” but rather “I want to prayer 10 minutes more each day.”
Make it Measurable: Intangible goals are impossible to track. When you reach the 5 minutes a day for 5 day goal in prayer celebrate it. Go on a retreat. When you reach your 10 minutes of prayer for 10 days celebrate with a party.
Make it Attainable: Is your goal within your ability to fulfill it? I cringe when people tell me about their goals to save the world or to transform the city in which they live – all within a 3 month period and without any training or expertise. More attainable goals might be – get involved in a local mission organization; increase my giving to charities by 50%. Take a course in city organization or social entrepreneurship or evangelism. These are attainable goals whose accomplishment gives great satisfaction.
Make it Realistic: Develop a plan for attaining your goals and enlist help in achieving your goals. Setting down tangible and measurable action steps that will keep you on track is extremely important. This helps us weigh the possibilities against the commitments we already have and makes us more aware of the time and resource commitments our goals demand. Enlisting help can often be a great reality check as our friends say “Have you thought of…?” or “When will you….? Paying close attention to their advice is an important part of the process.
Develop a Timetable. As the article I read this morning suggested: Timeliness adds urgency and reinforces accountability. This too is extremely important though we need to balance our timetables with the flexibility to change and adapt. There is no such thing as failure. Setbacks are merely obstacles to be surmounted and conquered. And surmounting them gives us a sense of how determined we are to change our old habits.
Many resolutions require breaking with old, ingrained behaviors or attitudes. It takes time to transform habits and emotional reactions. So don’t give up because you ate a piece of cake or missed some gym time or snapped at a coworker or sibling. Genuine and lasting change does not come easily and it does not come overnight. It happens one day at a time, with a series of sustained, practical actions. If you are willing to be smart about pursuing your goal, you can be successful.
Plan times to Evaluate your progress. Part of what we need to incorporate in our timetables is a process of evaluation. As many of you know Tom and I go on regular retreats to refocus our lives and check in on how well we are keeping to what we sense is God’s purpose for us. Part of what we do is prayerfully look back at the goals we have set and talk about how well we are moving toward those goals. We listen to see if God would redirect or reform those resolutions and then develop a plan of action for the next few months to move us closer towards attaining those goals. In other words maintaining our resolutions has become an important and serious part of our spiritual disciplines.
Make sure you Remember. Most people I know who make new year’s resolutions do nothing to remind themselves of their resolutions. You might like to write them on a piece of paper that you place in the front of your bible and read the list each morning as part of your spiritual discipline. Or you might like to share with your small group or book club members and as them to keep you accountable.
So for a little advice on how to make S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals this year, let me finish with some good thoughts from the apostle Paul in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (from Biblegateway.com)