This usually takes the form of New Year’s Resolutions. Some people make a list.
I resolve to:
Others make one major resolution, “I resolve to quit smoking.”
These are personal attempts to improve by making yourself accountable to your own will. When tempted to ignore your mother’s correction or be impatient with GranDad’s stories, your conscience reminds you that you were not going to do that this year. Then it becomes a wrestling match between your will power and your won’t power.
The New Year brings a sense of starting over, “turning over a new leaf”. “In the 16th century people referred to pages in a book as “leaves”. When they turned over a new leaf it meant they were turning to a blank page in a workbook to start a new lesson. This could also be more generally used as to say you’re turning over a page of your life and starting anew (idiomorigins.net). Many people mark this “new start” by seeking life improvement, as acknowledgement that they are not perfect and they are willing to improve.
There is psychological power in YES and NO. Every time you say YES, you increase the power of continuing that thought or action. Conversely, every time you say NO to a thought or action, you deplete the power of that thought or action. On the one hand, you can reinforce good and bad habits by saying YES to them. You can undermine good and bad habits by saying NO to them.
Spending too much money may be an addiction, but mostly it is a bad, undisciplined habit. By saying YES repeatedly to the discipline of not gratifying the desire to spend you can build the habit of frugality. By saying NO to frugality when you see something desirable, but unnecessary, you undermine financial responsibility. By saying NO to irresponsible spending (rationalized as necessary), you reinforce frugality and build up financial independence.
In the same way, one can embark on improvement of self by making New Year’s Resolutions. You set up the goal to improve. Each day we reinforce that goal we build its power to continue. A resolution to avoid getting impatience and anger in commuter traffic requires constant attention to our habits while driving.
Over the years, the incidents that cause us to get angry and lose our patience have reinforced that lack of restraint. We are alone in the car, so we can “vent” without anyone being bothered, right? Wrong! This rationalization excuses what we know to be bad behavior. Instead, we need to recognize those “triggers”, converting them to triggers that notify us to exchange our responses. We can begin saying YES to forgiveness and patience, while we are saying NO to anger and impatience.
By so doing, we are reinforcing good behavior and a more healthy life, emotionally and physically. By saying NO to our bad habitual responses, we undermine their power to be automatic.
There is an old joke, “What is the first thing that turns green in the spring? The “gold” ring your boyfriend gave you for Christmas.”
What are the first things your throw away in the New Year? Resolutions are, because they are so hard to keep. Habits developed by a long string of YES’s over time have great power. Therefore, to break bad habits takes persistence and strength of will. Each NO is a triumph against a bad habit. Each NO diminishes its power to conform our lives to unhealthy things that our psyche craves, because it is the “normal;” and “comfortable habit”.
The habit has the advantage of a well-worn track in our souls. To diminish it requires forcing our psyche out of its rut. It requires a strong will to break the pattern of years and begin a new one. Too often, the persistence of habit overcomes the will and soon we fall into that old pattern of cussing the driver who cut us off.
Our resolutions take so much effort to reprogram our psyche that for too many people their New Year’s resolutions in a few weeks die shattered at their feet. Folks give up in self-disgust and say, “Well I’ll try again next year.”
Unhappily, that plays right into the hands of our habituated psyche. It has then another nine, ten or eleven months to build up stronger bad habits.
January is the traditional and time-honored time to make resolutions, particularly New Year’s Day or in the first week. Who makes resolutions to improve in May or October? Very few.
But, why not? If we adjust our thinking to discard tradition and to be open to new resolution to improve any time during the year, we break the cycle of made and broken resolutions in the first few weeks of the year. We free our selves not only from the mostly unworkable tradition, but we also free our self from the habit of, “Oh well. I can’t keep them this year. Perhaps I’ll do better next year.”
Since we are individually free agents, we can decide at anytime to do or not do anything we choose. Realizing this can free us from discouragement when we reach March and find the old habits are winning. Knowing we do not have to wait until next January, but can begin again immediately, robs our psyche of the excuse to wait until next year. The battle can recommence immediately.
This puts the power back in the resolutions. The power that comes from wearing down resistance switches from the bad habit to the person who wants to change. If each time one sees his resolution in tatters, he simply renews it, then habits give way over time. This repeated overriding the old rut builds up a new path and eventually makes a new positive habit.
This reveals another truth. Resolutions are a tradition and have the impetus of the “new start” mentality at the turn of the New Year. However, we can resolve to improve any day we have the gumption to do so. All it takes is awareness of our shortcomings, the honesty to face them and the courage to make a change.
Awareness is the foundation. This requires an honest look at ourselves from a disinterested perspective (which is the hard part). It is wise from time to time to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror. Remove our rose-colored glasses and examine our warts. If you are like me, you’ve got lots.
Do not seek to address them all. Be selective. Either take on the one that will make the most difference or take on the one that is easiest to overcome. Your choice can be determined by your strength of will. The former is likely tougher, and is an appropriate choice for the strong-willed. The latter is for those who need to build up their “won’t power” by the confidence gained in small victories.
Desire for the truth gives you the power to face your shortcomings honestly. Truth can be elusive because of all our internal defense mechanisms.There is an interesting psychological truth expressed in Johari’s Window. Our person-hood divides into four parts:
The Open part is the public space, called the “Arena”. You clearly know these things about yourself and are willing to reveal them to others.
The Blind part is the “Blind Spot”. It is what others can see in you, that you do not know about yourself.
The Hidden part is private, called the “façade”. It is who you are that you choose not to reveal to others.
The Unknown part is “the Terra Incognita”. This is a real part of what makes you, but is hidden from others and you do not reveal to yourself.
Therefore, with some effort and honest inquiry you can know three quarters of who you are, Where there is plenty of room for self examination.
Courage to make the change is the third part of self improvement (after awareness of shortcomings and facing your self). This is where the rubber meets the road. All the foregoing is mental abstractions at best, and at worst flights of fancy. One has to decide that the future is better by improving self. The desire to seek after something better will motivate you to take on your psyche courageously and battle for the future you.
Hey, I’m not so bad! Look at those others. They’re much worse off than I am. I really don’t need to change. ‘Sides I’m comfortable where I am. That’s pretty good, Right?
Resting in one’s laurels is always an option. Unless you are morbidly obese, you don’t have to lose weight. Unless you are coughing constantly, you don’t have to give up smoking. Unless you are alienating the people close to you, you don’t have to control your temper.
By far, most of the people live without a thought of resolutions to improve. People generally allow their well-developed habits to dictate who they are and how they interact with the world. Improvement only becomes important when there is a job opportunity, or the like, that requires more resources than they have. Until then they are satisfied to coast along as they are. There are so many demands on our time that we do not even think of maintaining our personality.
Hurricane Katrina caused massive flooding of New Orleans. That occurred because the dikes that the Corps of Engineering had built many decades before failed to retain the floodwaters. Because of budget shortfalls, deferred maintenance allowed for the weakening of the dikes that led to the flooding and billions of property damage.
People need to maintain their psyche. Erosion of principles occurs over time coupled with inattention. Periodically, a review and resolve to improve goes a long way to maintaining a healthy, integrated personality.
God is a loving Father who wants the best for His people. He is perfect, and wants His people to be perfect.
Some psychologists have assumed that children are born “tabla rasa”, a blank slate. Actually this is not true. All people are born into this world with genetic and personality predispositions. Even at the beginning of life there are features of our personality that can be damaging to self and others.
These methods of making improvements in your psyche is a Do-It-Yourself method of correction. It all depends on your determination. It is a “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” method of self-improvement. The degree of success is determined by your strength of will and your persistence.
God has a better idea.
God is Omniscient, so he knows everything about us. There is no façade that can hide things from Him. There is no Terra Incognita for Him. As I said above, He wants the best for us. God wants to reveal to us those things in our lives that interfere with our becoming the man or woman that He wants us to be.
What He requires of us is surrender.
And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a reward-er of them that seek after him. (Hebrews 11:6)
This means that we must confess Jesus as our Savior who saves us from sin. We must give over our lives into His control. We must commit to worship God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Surrender begins God’s work in our hearts to start a reconstruction, strengthening that which is pleasing to God, shoring up that which is weak and removing that which is unhelpful or even detrimental to God’s Plan for us to be the man or woman He created us to be.
His Holy Spirit has come to live in the lives of believers.
And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8)
All that is ungodly in our lives the Holy Spirit will reveal to us. He gives us the desire to face our sin; to face honestly that we (yes, you and I, no matter how mature we are in the faith) have a lot of work to do.
The Holy Spirit softens our hearts toward God and teaches us say with David:
Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
When our hearts are tender toward God, our heart’s desire is to live in His Presence. We have a great desire to eliminate whatever hinders the closeness of our relationship with Jesus. Many of these attitudes, habits and actions we can, with God’s help, eliminate readily. It requires a strong resolve and a willingness to sacrifice. As they peel off one by one, another surfaces and the battle in a new arena begins. As Jesus makes us victorious in early battles, we gain courage and strength.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:23).
Our Father blesses us with a greater sense of His Presence in our lives. Correspondingly, we grow in our resistance to the ungodliness in our lives.
Those ungodly habits that have a strong grip may be hard to exorcise. They are likely entwined around entrenched fleshy lusts. They hide in things we earnestly desire or have lived with for decades. Often they are bound on things our soul is convinced we cannot live without. Nevertheless, nothing is so strong that we cannot conquer it in Jesus Name.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Fr. Denis Bennett taught that when there is something plaguing a believer the question to ask is, “Do you want to be rid of this?” If the answer was NO, then the next question would be, “Do you want to want to be rid of this?” Likely the answer would be YES. Then the prayer should be, “Lord, Make me want to be rid of it.”
In these ways, the Holy Spirit will lead us in the battle against our ungodly ways to outflank the ungodly trait and build openness in our lives for the Holy Spirit to convince us of our sin. At the same time, build up our desire for righteousness. This two-fold work of the Holy Spirit strengthens our resolve and gives us the courage to break the bond of the besetting sin. Then freedom and holiness in this area are within sight.
Jesus is the Righteous Savior for all who will trust Him and surrender to His authority. Fully trusting Jesus opens us to receive a greater measure of His love. He bore our sins on the cross when He died. He destroyed our bondage to sin completely. He has clothed us in His righteousness and made us accepted in the beloved. All of this is proof of His love for us and our assurance that He is a trustworthy God.
It is ultimately reassuring that God is Omnipotent and that He loves His People. It means that when we belong to Him we never need to be fearful of anything in our psyche or external to our being.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Romans 8:37)
When one belongs to Jesus, we have the resources of Almighty God at our disposal, because we are joint heirs with Christ! Hallelujah!
For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus was conceived, gestated and born just like us. He grew from infancy to boyhood through puberty and young manhood, just as we do. Therefore, he had the opportunity to be tempted to sin as a baby, a child, a teen and a young man.
To be a proper Savior for mankind, He needed to be a man. He needed to be tempted in all ways and Jesus needed to be an innocent victim slain for our sins. Those requirements Jesus met, so He was a full, perfect oblation and sacrifice. His death was the complete payment and satisfaction for all the sins of all of mankind for all of time.
The Savior did need to be an adult to submit willingly to the crucifixion, with knowledge aforethought. In that way, His blood could be the effectual agent to wash you and me clean of our sins. That was Justification. Now we, in partnership with Jesus, live our lives seeking out residual sin and placing it under the blood of Christ. That is Sanctification.
Join me in bowing before our God in gratitude that we can speak directly and personally to Him. He is our loving Father, so we can embrace Him boldly, but respectfully.
Holy LORD God, How magnificent You are. Your majesty is past our finding out. Your resplendent glory fills Your Kingdom. You are the Sovereign Lord of all peoples—believers and unbelievers alike. At Your desire we live and we die. At Your commend our lives are blessed or they are cursed.
Nothing is beyond your knowledge or power. Nothing is beneath Your notice. You have placed perfect law to govern the Universe. Everything works in the finest precision. You built everything that exists on the foundation of atoms. In different molecular structure they form rocks, plants and animals.
Into one-third of Your creation you added sentience, the ability of know, to flee from danger, the instincts that make life possible. You imbued the higher animals with the ability to calculate to emote and play. You have inserted life into two thirds of your creation—plants and animals. You order our lives, our growth, our fruiting, our reproduction and our deaths. You created us interdependent. All life uses other life to continue living.
You selected mankind to be the apex of your creation. Wonder of wonders, You implanted in us Your image, giving us conscience, ability to love, ability to create, and most importantly that ability to recognize You and accept Your love and return it to You.
Almighty God, how glorious is Your creation. How marvelous is our part in it. You have made believers joint heirs with Your Son, so that we could work with You in fulfilling Your Purpose in and for this world.
We praise and glorify Your Presence. Hallelujah Our Grand and Holy Father. Hallelujah, Our loving Savior. Hallelujah, our blessed Guide to Jesus. We are deeply grateful. Amen. Maranatha!