Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
Probably one of the most useless wastes of mental and spiritual energy engaged in by some individuals is the making of New Year resolutions. One reason for the futility of New Year resolutions is that they are usually couched in such general terms that they invite procrastination, hesitation, ensuing failure and either anxiety or depression.
Typical New Year’s resolutions are familiar to all: Stop smoking, lose weight, spend more time with my family. These are all laudable goals. But the problem is that they are ‘goals,’ that is to say, endpoints, not the first step to reach the goal one has “resolved” to reach. Often what confronts the person are numerous choices with no direction about the first step to attain the goal. Some never seem to get beyond the “choice point.” (Morelli, 2006)
Resolutions would be much more attainable if the individual who makes them would initially resolve to identify the first step, followed by the second step, etc. However, most who make resolutions are in a quandary as to where to even begin.
Procrastination, inaction and anxiety are a problem also for those who want to resolve to start the new year by re-orienting themselves toward God. Our Eastern Church Father, St. John Cassian (Philokalia I), calls this a spiritual dilemma because the mind of the person is surrounded by "vain distraction ... [and] is grievously caught up in them the person afflicted with it is slack and full of fear.”
One of our ancient desert fathers explained it this way: A beginning monk who went to a certain elder to [pose] this question: "Why, Father, do I fall so often into sloth?" was told: "You lack the faith which makes you see God everywhere; for this reason you can be careless and lazy about your salvation.”
The Eastern Church Fathers recommend that the first step in orienting ourselves toward God is to develop ‘a sense of the presence of God.’ The Holy Eastern desert Spiritual Fathers Barsanuphius and John (Kadloubovsky, & Palmer, 1951) tell us: “No man who wishes to reach a city lies down on the ground; no man who wishes to work gives himself up to laziness when he sees the sun rise ... Thus even the ordinary can remind us of God.”
Praying the beautiful words of Psalm 18:1 may help in this first step: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims [H]is handiwork.” This could be followed up by the reciting of this Eastern Church hymn: “Glory to Thee [O God] for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness when all the world is hidden from our eyes.”
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, (2002) a contemporary Orthodox theologian, quotes an unlikely person, Albert Einstein, who had such fundamental spiritual insight: “To know that there exists a hidden Reality which is revealed to us as the highest Beauty and to feel this – this is the core of true spirituality.”
So, to develop this sense would be a worthy New Year Resolution – a “first step.”
Alfeyev, Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
Kadloubovsky, E. & Palmer, G.E.H. (trans.) (1951). Writings From the Philokalia on Prayer from the Heart. London: Faber and Faber.
Morelli, G. (2006, June 04). The Spiritual Roots of Procrastination. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliProcrastination.php.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds). (1979). The Philokalia: The Complete Text Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth Vol. I. London: Faber and Faber.