As we begin another new year, many of us will make resolutions to significantly change parts of our spiritual lives. We may want to pray more, read Scripture more, grow in a particular virtue, or find freedom from a habitual sin. Sadly, 92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail – 80% before the end of February. This can leave us feeling defeated, frustrated, or even depressed. But it does not have to be that way. This year can be a year of growth and transformation, freedom and joy. To achieve this we need to commit to decisive actions that create the proper conditions for spiritual growth.
You Say You Want A Resolution?
A resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something. Conventional wisdom tells us that if we are truly committed to something, nothing can stop us. We are fed a steady stream of amazing success stories of people who “set their minds to it,” “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” or “never stopped believing in themselves.” We hear these stories and wonder, “Why can’t I do the same in my spiritual life? Why can’t I make myself into the person God wants me to be?”
First, stop beating yourself up over your past failures. The truth is that you are not capable of changing your life with only your own resolve. Do not mishear me – your effort in bringing about your growth in holiness and love is indispensable. But it is never enough without the action of God.
The Spiritual Life Is Intense Not Intentions
As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is also true that the road to spiritual mediocrity is paved with good intentions. But aren’t we supposed to set down a path – whether spiritual or temporal – with purpose and a clear goal? How, then, can intentions become such a stumbling block? The danger is that we can settle for less than we should because we believe our hearts are in the right place. Desire replaces action. To truly release the power of God in our lives and to become all that God intends requires more than desire. It requires decisive actions; the first of which is surrender.
Give Up Before You Start
The Christian life is full of paradoxes. Perhaps the one that is the hardest to embrace is the truth that if we want victory, we must surrender. The Catechism teaches us, “The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will” (CCC 1098). Our actions, to be effective, need to be a response to the grace of the Holy Spirit. He is the principle Agent, the primary Actor in our conversion and growth. Jesus clearly said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” To grow in holiness and communion with God requires surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord and the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit to awaken our hearts, minds, and wills to desire God above all things and to love Him more than ourselves. We need to, like the clay on a potter’s wheel, allow ourselves to be touched and molded by God.
Do It For Love
When faced with our need for conversion, what will help us overcome fear, complacency, or pride is not beating ourselves up or merely making resolutions, but the power of the love of God to move our hearts and set us free. St. John tells us in John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” God does not want just our blind adherence to a moral or ethical code; He wants our love. When we seek to be filled with God’s love and live in communion with Him, we receive all that we need to grow in obedience, sacrifice, and love. When we know God’s love in our hearts, everything else seems small in comparison – including ourselves. Then we can truly begin to love Jesus and live to do the will of the Father.
If you truly want to change this year, let God love you more. Seek His love in prayer, the sacraments, and Scripture.
How Do You Make A Seed Grow?
But what comes after our surrender? How do we respond to the love of God in order to bring about spiritual growth in our lives?
Growing spiritually is much like gardening. A gardener cannot make a plant grow. The seed itself contains everything it needs to become a fruitful, life-giving plant. What a gardener must do is create the right conditions for the seed to grow. He must provide rich soil, good water, and the right amount of light. He must pull weeds that rob the plant of water and nutrients. He must remove rocks that can hinder the growth of strong roots or make the harvesting of fruit difficult. A gardener who does these things consistently will produce an abundant harvest.
These same principles guide our spiritual growth. We need to remove the “weeds” and “rocks” from our lives that stifle our growth. We need to “fertilize” and “water” our souls with spiritual food and the living water of the Holy Spirit. We need to live in the light of Christ and not just reject but avoid the darkness of this present age. All of these require decisive action on our part.
Decide To Be Decisive
The word “decisive” comes from the Latin word dēcīdere, which literally means, “to cut off.” I learned the hard way through many years of frustration, and at times despair, that if I truly wanted to follow Jesus, I had to embrace His call to die. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I wanted to skip over denying myself and carrying crosses and just call myself a follower of Jesus.
As a result, no matter how much I asked God to fill me with His life and grace, I remained quite empty due to the fact that I was too full of myself. When I decided to change the conditions surrounding my spiritual life and refocus my faith journey on dying rather than trying, I began to experience a deepening of the life of God in my soul.
Let Go and Let God
If you are hungry for a deeper relationship with Christ and in need of a jumpstart, here are some ways that you can set yourself up for a year – and a lifetime – of spiritual growth:
- Surrender your life daily to the Lord. Give Him your heart, your mind, and your will. Admit your weaknesses and trust in God’s mercy and grace.
- Let Jesus love you. Take time every day to just be with Him – no agenda, no words; just silence and an open heart. Start by asking the Holy Spirit to pour the love of the Father into your heart and then wait and receive.
- Read the Bible and other spiritual books. I personally recommend Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD.
- Fast – by denying yourself small comforts or pleasures you make more room for God to dwell in your soul.
- Renounce yourself every day, starting with your sins and weaknesses. Freely admit your own powerlessness.
- Frequent the sacraments of the Eucharist (both at Mass and in Adoration) and Reconciliation. Spending time with the Lord here will purify and fertilize the soil of your soul better than anything else.
- Seek what God is trying to teach you – especially when challenges and struggles come your way. Often, the things we need to grow are those that push us out of our comfort zone.
- Be patient. God is the Artisan of the spiritual life and He changes us in His timing and according to His will. We only need to consistently commit to the disciplines that create the conditions for spiritual growth and He will do the rest.
May God bless you abundantly as you seek deeper communion with Him.