Resolutions make me tired. While it is fitting to want to be better, healthier, more successful, etc., resolutions begin from a flawed premise: “We are in charge of improving ourselves. We need to do differently and, with adequate resolve and prominent reminders on the fridge, we can change ourselves.”
Poppycock! There is a very good reason that New Year’s resolutions fail quickly and resoundingly. They are wrong-headed.
When we make resolutions, we are essentially saying, “I am in charge of my life. If I get organized enough and determined enough, I can change myself in important ways.”
This is the doctrine of the anti-Christ, voiced by Korihor: “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength” (Alma 30:17).
An annual binge of New Year’s resolutions shows how badly we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than resolve once a year to improve ourselves, God invites us to weekly take counsel from the One whose names include Savior, Redeemer, Truth, Life, Light, and Advocate. He is the One who is in charge of positive change in the universe. He is the only one who can reform our characters and put our lives in order. In contrast to Korihor’s sad dogma is the doctrine of Christ:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32)
I believe that there is a place for sensible goals. “I want to be more kind this year.” “I want to get out of debt.” Etc. But both the power and the process for attaining our goals are gifts from the giver of life. We simply cannot make ourselves holy, noble, loving, charitable, or anything important without the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save.
Jesus gives the parable of a certain rich man who needed to expand his storage to hold his growing possessions. Given his success, it seemed entirely appropriate to build larger barns. But he did not take counsel from heaven and there were important things he didn’t know about his future. “God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:20).
When we make our plans based on our aspirations, the blind lead the blind. When our plans are directed by God, we can have confidence in our course.
The most important part of any change process should be the weekly fifteen-minute conversation we have with Jesus during the sacrament. We allow a sacrament hymn to soften our hearts. We invite sacred prayers to open our hearts. And, prepared with faith, we sit with Jesus and get sweet counsel. We repent of our faults and take assignments for the coming week.
Many years ago (May 27, 1975, BYU Speeches), Stephen Covey gave inspired advice. He encouraged each of us to regularly approach Jesus with the four stewardship questions.
What do I need to do to draw closer to the living Christ?
What do I need to do to be a better member of my family?
What do I need to do to more fully magnify my Church membership and callings?
What do I need to do to more fully magnify my [other] stewardships?
If we pose these questions to Jesus, listen peacefully for His counsel, and follow it earnestly, we are engaged in the greatest development program in the universe.
Think how different this is from our usual process. Commonly each of us settles on something that has helped us and then we impose the practice on others. One person finds that getting up at 5 a.m. and reading the scriptures has made all the difference. That person may recommend that practice to everyone at every opportunity. But many of the recipients of the counsel will find that they can’t do it or it doesn’t work well for them; so they feel like spiritual failures. They give up.
We should not generalize our spiritual remedies any more than we should pass around our prescription drugs in sacrament meeting. Of course we rejoice in our spiritual discoveries; but we ordinary saints do not have the right to make them into commandments for other people.
And, if we want optimal growth, we will take regular counsel from the One who is in charge of perfection. We will get weekly counsel during the sacrament. We will be renewed and energized by our encounter with Him. And we will seek to apply His counsel every day of the week looking forward to when we meet Him again at the sacred sacrament table to report and make new commitments.
When we form our own resolutions, we are also taking personal responsibility for their enactment. In contrast, when we make Jesus our growth partner, He not only coaches us on next steps but also enables us in taking them. He knows exactly what we must do next in the process of growth and He gladly supports and energizes us along the inspired path. He is the Light and the Life of our lives!
All of this is consistent with Jesus’ simple directive: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”
Rather than annually make resolutions with ourselves, I recommend that we weekly make covenants with Jesus.
Thanks to Barbara Keil and Nancy Goddard for their insightful comments on this article.
Recommendations: You can buy a copy of Brother Goddard’s newest book, Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth, at Deseret Book. You may also be interested in some of his other books such as The Soft-Spoken Parent, Between Parent and Child, or Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.