Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
The New Year does present a blank page to start again; psychologically it turns a page and it can feel like a fresh start. This is why resolutions are part of the New Year. Most fail – if this magazine is on time, there is a good chance that many readers’ New Year resolutions will be broken ones. That is a pity, because the desire for new beginnings and to break new ground in life is a good and godly one. The spiritual life is one of new resolutions – the working out of a new pattern and rule of life. It is not easy, and much spiritual aspiration falls to the ground as quickly as a New Year’s Eve good intention.
A failed resolution in the spiritual life can be very damaging. The sense of failure and disappointment saps the will and can lead to a desolate state of mind and heart. Because of this, coming to a resolution is a process that requires much thought and prayer. It is pointless to make a resolution about prayer, worship, giving or service that is impossible to keep. We should not deal in dreams and fantasies, but with hopes and God-given desires. Resolutions that bear lasting fruit are a vocation from God – the work of the Holy Spirit – calling us deeper into fellowship with him.
Some resolutions are by necessity personal and private. These might be addressing habits of mind and heart that need discipline and correction. Some, however, will have a direct impact on the people with whom one lives. Say, for example, the resolution is to rise earlier to have a longer quiet and prayer time. If you are married, it might be an idea to talk about it with your spouse! The same goes for diet, or financial giving, and even matters about attending worship. Here we touch the whole question of joint resolutions in marriages and families – an important area beyond our immediate scope!
There is no need to reinvent spiritual disciplines and rules of life; the Christian tradition brims over with wisdom and practical examples. This is where an experienced prayer guide or director can be invaluable. He or she may be able to draw out of their treasury something old or something new to provide help and encouragement. Prayer and reflection around a pattern of life and prayer may find a person leaning towards a particular spiritual tradition, for example Benedictine or Franciscan, in which case there are religious communities that can give help and support. The importance of fellowship and support in a rule of life cannot be overestimated. Life in Christ is life in community, unless an individual has a specific and rare vocation to solitary life. A rule of life will lead to deeper integration and fellowship with other Christians.
It is important to review any rule of life frequently. Personal, family and wider circumstances are constantly shifting and changing. The consequence of this is that the point of balance in the day and week is also a moving point. To plough on regardless with a pattern of prayer, worship or giving, without regard to these changes, can be damaging to the individual and those around him. If all the above is a bit off-putting and you have resolved never to make a resolution again, I apologize. All you need to remember is that making a resolution is best done sober, and the only worthwhile source of inspiration is the Holy Spirit!