Choosing Well in the New Year

January 7th, 2012

The beginning of each new year always brings talk of making resolutions and starting or stopping some habits. As adults we promise ourselves that this is the year we’re going to lose those extra ten pounds, stop smoking, get out of debt, make better choices, or fix a broken relationship. Young people might see the new year as an opportunity to start over in certain areas of their lives, to exercise more, to make straight A’s, or to get along better with their parents. With resolution-making on our minds, the beginning of 2012 is a great time to think about the commitments we make and consider whether or not we are choosing well.

Commitments say a lot about who we are. Decisions to add or discard habits speak to things that are important to us—health, wholeness, family, relationships, and so forth. When we choose to make commitments, we test ourselves to see if we can be true to our word.

The first of the year is also a great time to think about the whys and the whens of our commitments. Sometimes we over commit or over promise and find ourselves in over our heads. Youth especially should consider the following: Can I do well in basketball, debate, drama, get good grades, and still have quality rest and family time—all at the same time? So maybe, instead of a long list of new resolutions or promises this year, we can just resolve to make the best possible choices in our commitments and learn to let each “yes” be yes and each “no” be no.

Making Good Choices

The starting point for choosing well is to examine our current commitments. Begin by asking: Are my choices meaningful and worthy of my time and effort, or do they just add pressure and expectations? We all live with so much pressure and expectation that we don’t need the added burden of commitments that steal the joy from our daily lives.

An Ignatian spiritual practice can help us think about the activities we say “yes” and “no” to in the coming year. Imagine that you are holding a decision, commitment, or choice in your hand. Close your eyes and think of all that comes along with that decision, commitment, or choice—the stress, sacrifice, happiness, guilt, and so forth. Now imagine that there are two poles, one on each side of you. To the left is desolation, the land that’s full of burden and no joy. To the right is the land of consolation, offering peace, joy, and satisfaction. When you consider the decision you hold in your hands, does it feel more like desolation or consolation? Does the commitment make your heart leap with joy or sink in despair?

Commitments that feel like a journey to the land of desolation very likely will not be fulfilled; and, even if they are fulfilled, they may turn into pressure, stress, and probably some guilt. Decisions that feel like a journey to consolation give us pep in our step and keep us focused on following through with our commitment.

Seek God First

A sure way to choose well is to seek first the kingdom of God. When we are in constant communion with God, we are more in tune with our capacity and are able to say yes or no at the right time. In the coming year young people will encounter plenty of opportunities that sound too good to pass up. But we can help them— and also learn with them—about saying yes to commitments that are life-giving and saying no to the things that, although fun, only add busyness and pressure to the daily routine. This year challenge your youth to make just one resolution—to say yes to life-giving things and no to life-draining things.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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