Have you given up on your New Year’s resolutions yet? Congratulations. For most of us the annual resolve to lose some weight, get to the gym, pay off our debts, or clean out our closets is an exercise in living for a short time with an impossibly harsh daily plan to reform ourselves. It almost never works because the real problem isn’t the stacks of paper in the closet or the lack of ripped abs. The real problem is that we think we ought to be in control of our lives and ordering up new habits should be as simple as ordering up new tires for the car. But really, being a human is more complicated than that. We aren’t in control, not completely, and sometimes those things we feel bad about, our bad habits, are symptoms of a problem, not the problem itself. Our unconscious self, our deep self, is trying to alert us to something we keep trying to ignore. “Hey over here!” it is yelling. “We’re not doing so great. We feel ignored. We are tired. Why don’t we have a serious talk about our life?”
And for many of us, that talk is something we want to avoid. We don’t want to admit that we are not as happy as we want to be, that we have made some questionable choices, that life is not at all what we had planned back when we were young and idealistic. But changing all that, asking hard questions about our job, our marriage, our faith—we do not want to go there. So we go everywhere else: to happy hour, to the junk food aisle of the convenience store, to that gray zone in front of our screens where we can float along in numbness.
That’s pretty grim, isn’t it? Well, the good news is that there is some good news. Having a spiritual life is a way to get in touch with the scary down-deep parts of yourself. If you start from the point of view that you are a beloved child of God, and your mistakes or bad choices are the things that tend to obscure that identity, then changing those things might be less white-knuckling and more removing the roadblocks to your true identity. And maybe you might even decide that ripped abs are not so important as finding ways to express your spiritual priorities with your free time.
So, congratulate yourself on being a human. Despite all our problems, it’s really a pretty good deal: God loves you and you have been given a unique, holy, and irreplaceable place in God’s world. If you want help with being human, there are some sources of assistance. In my next blog I will mention a few books that have been especially helpful. But during this month of resolutions and perceptions of failure, I suggest you meditate on these wise words from St. Benedict: If love is your goal, failure is impossible.