New Year’s Resolutions have always been a very pass/fail sort of test for me. I set myself up to forgo chocolate and lo and behold, two weeks into the New Year, I find myself munching nonchalantly on fudge. In the immortal words of comedian Steve Martin, “I forgot.” But worse, one slip up and I feel like I have failed. I can’t go back to “the day before the fudge” so what’s the point? My record is no longer perfect.
But that is the whole point from a spiritual perspective. We’re not perfect. But we are improving.
Resolving to be more spiritual is not a hard date to keep or a hard bar to leap over. It’s a daily resetting of your mind and soul. It’s trying again when you “fail” and knowing that you can never fail if you’re trying. It is…grace. Here a few ideas for growing spiritually and for spurring you to think of your own.
1. Count to 10
Your mother was right — or, maybe it was my mother — but anyway, counting to 10 is an age-old axiom for a reason. Our first reactions to things may be influenced by how stressed we are at the moment, what just happened in that meeting or where our blood sugar levels are hovering. Do you really want to snap at someone because you are mad at someone else? Especially, if it that someone else is yourself?
Taking a few seconds to think before speaking takes discipline and practice. But taking time to respond when you feel emotional is a spiritual exercise that will help you be more centered and more caring. Make sure you eat first.
But I am! Right? Breathing is an involuntary response of the body. One that happens regardless of whether we’re aware of it. But breathing can become shallow or quick when we are anxious or stressed — and that is when we need oxygen the most.
There are over 30 verses in the Bible that mention breath and they seem to often be connected to or representative of Spirit, of God.
The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. — Job 33:4
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. — John 20:22
Mindful breathing is essential to our spiritual life because it connects our heads with our bodies and our bodies with our hearts. When I feel afraid or physically sick, I breathe 10 times as deeply and calmly as I can and remind myself that it will be OK. And it is.
3. Think positive thoughts
I read that human beings think three or four negative thoughts to every positive one. My friends admit to beating themselves up for their shortcomings or worrying to the point of distraction about the future.
When things are going wrong, that’s the most difficult time to be positive — and sometimes you just have to go to bed! But a steady stream of hopeful or reassuring thoughts can help bring us back to the truth that we are not alone.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or simply, “It’s going to be OK!” are better thoughts to think than, “I’ll never be able to do it!” Thinking on the true and good thing (Philippians 4:8) is far better than allowing fear to overcome you. No matter how bad the situation is, remember you are loved beyond measure.
A COVENANT PRAYER
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
“A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition” is used in the Covenant Renewal Service, often celebrated on New Year’s Eve or Day. This version is on page 607 in the United Methodist hymnal.
4. Love (and forgive) yourself
One of my favorite Bible verses ever, but one that has taken years for me to comprehend is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, among others). What does that really mean? I struggled with thinking loving the self was, well, selfish. Now, as an adult, I understand that you cannot love and accept others if you do not love and accept yourself. You cannot express unconditional love if you do not first practice it with yourself.
There is a beautiful song by the Bluegrass band Mountain Heart that lists the writer’s transgressors and his success in forgiving them. Notice the last line.
I forgive my daddy for missing half my life,
I forgive my momma for holding on too tight,
I’ve forgiven friends, strangers, neighbors, family,
Everybody… everybody… but me.
Holding on to guilt can impact relationships because it blocks the flow of communication, of love itself. Practice grace — with yourself. You can’t truly live your life until you do.
5. Love one another (and forgive the ones you can’t forgive)
Such a simple directive. Such a beautiful philosophy. Did He really mean the ones we disagree with, too?!
Learning to love in the manner Christ intended is more of a lifetime goal than an immediate accomplishment. The progress sneaks up on you over months, years, sort of like when I gave up the perfection of Yoga Magazine and settled for “getting better.” Which is a nice verb phrase whose synonyms include “rejuvenate, restored and released.”
Forgiving people who have hurt us may well be the most difficult task we are asked to perform as Christians. But if you keep “carrying all that anger, it’ll eat you up inside,” as Don Henley sang. The subtitle of the Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book on forgiveness is, “Finding Peace Through Letting Go,”and it means just that. And just know…it’s a process. Accept where you are with it.
6. Pray — right where you are
I tend to agree with writer Anne Lamott that prayers are usually “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” or “Help me! Help me! Help me!” But as I grew spiritually, I began to pray for other people when I myself was hurting. It’s been a powerful practice that has changed my perspective about what others go through and how many blessings I actually have.
A daily devotional, like the one offered at The Upper Room, a book of prayers from around the world, “A Bead and a Prayer,” (as explained by United Methodist author, Kristen Vincent) and even crying, are all ways you can connect with God.
Pray. Pray in the way that works for you. If you haven’t in a while, if you don’t believe it works… then pray that. God’s not afraid of your doubt. Praying is something you can do wherever you are.
7. Be grateful — and be joyful
I woke up one morning when all I wanted to do was cry, and I heard clearly in my head:
This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
So, I played “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, instead.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice that will change your life. It’s not just that it shifts your focus from what you don’t have to what you do have. It can lift your spirits in such a way that helps you cope when you are down.
Joy is an inside job but it can be inspired by external things. Music. Children. Nature. Art. Find them.
8. Think of the other fellow
That is what my mother used to say. “And you’ll feel better.” ?
When I was little, I thought doing things for others was about, well, others. It was the right and proper thing to do, but I wasn’t sure it was necessarily fun. But as an adult, I realized it did far more for me than it ever did for anyone I ever helped.
The Wesleyan tradition holds that faith and good works belong together. “We offer our lives back to God through a life of service.”
You cannot help someone else and not be changed yourself. Which may be the coolest paradox of “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Try it.
You don’t have to master all spiritual practices this week or even this year. But you can earnestly strive to be more spiritual at any point in time. It is an on-going practice. A resolution you can re-make daily.
Happy New Year.
This story was first published on Dec. 31, 2014.
*Laurens Glass is Website Manager for UMCOM.org at United Methodist Communcations. She can be reached at LGlass@umcom.org or 615.742.5405.