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January 5, 2020

On New Year’s Day, many families in the Upstate gather for a meal as traditional as watching parades or football bowl games. Pork chops or short ribs, black-eyed peas or Hopping John, collards or turnip greens, and cornbread are the usual fare. My dad used to survey the dinner plates of all those gathered and dole out a crisp two-dollar bill to anyone who ate their greens and peas. Southern lore holds that anyone eating such a meal will enjoy prosperity in the year ahead. Dad gave us all a jump-start on the anticipated good fortune.

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces; one looking backward, the other looking forward. The two-faced god, holding keys, presided over new beginnings. The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. The first day of the first month was his sacred day. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year. We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

What have been the blessings of the past year? My personal list is lengthy and includes family and friends. There have been times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those have presented opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate. A new calendar presents us with 365 new leaves and 365 clean slates. We can plan ahead for events that have top priority. Marking special birthdays and anniversaries on a new calendar serves as a reminder to save those days. Blocking out time for vacations and other family occasions in advance guards against the inevitable avalanche of routine daily activities that can crowd out the most important events.

The beginning of the New Year brings with it a flurry of resolutions, ranging from the impossible to the foolish. Many pledges and promises will be short-lived. By the time you read these words your best intentions may have already been discarded just a few days into the year. Many of our pledges of resolve will meet with mixed results.

A man in Georgia resolved to win the lottery. He spent so much money on tickets that his exasperated wife left him.

A woman living in a New York apartment resolved to adopt a new pet every month. Her landlord soon evicted her.

Most of us have had the unhappy experience of making resolutions we could not keep. Failure to honor our goals has often left us feeling guilty.

Here are some tongue-in-cheek suggestions that should be relatively easy for us to keep.

  1. Gain weight, at least 20 pounds.
  2. Stop exercising.
  3. Read less. It makes you think too much.
  4. Watch more TV.
  5. Procrastinate more. Start next week.

The New Year is both a time for looking back and for anticipating the year ahead. It’s a time to reflect on and make changes that might improve our lives. According to the top ten New Year’s resolutions contemporary Americans make are also the ones we have the most difficulty keeping. This list may help you consider your goals for the coming year.

  1. Lose weight and get fit.
  2. Quit smoking.
  3. Learn something new.
  4. Eat a healthier diet.
  5. Manage money.
  6. Spend more time with family and friends.
  7. Reduce stress.
  8. Make better use of time.
  9. Simplify by getting organized.
  10. Quit drinking.

Three psychiatrists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who are also professors of psychiatry, advise that the key to achieving even the loftiest goals is to get started immediately. Allow action to precede motivation. Don’t wait until the mood seems right. Begin now!

  1. Be positive. Avoid perfectionist thinking.
  2. View setbacks as lessons for growth. Mistakes can be, and usually are, opportunities for learning. If you fall short of your goals, ask yourself what hindered you from achieving them.
  3. Make resolutions that are flexible and realistic. Avoid words like never and always in your resolutions. Think in terms of gradual, steady improvement.
  4. Share your goals with trusted friends. They can gently nudge you in the right direction when you veer off course. Accountability contributes to success.
  5. Give your resolutions personal meaning. Your goal should be something you really desire to change or achieve, not just something that others say will be good for you. You can be successful with strong, internal motivation.
  6. Set realistic goals that are attainable. Take small steps that are likely to be met with success. Rather than trying to lose ten pounds in a week, join a weight-loss program instead. Try to lose one pound a week.
  7. Acknowledge the spiritual aspect of your goals. A good resolution will honor your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions.

In my personal experience with New Year’s resolutions, I am more likely to be successful if the goal is not simply self-improvement. A higher goal is to make life better for others, as well as for ourselves. A few examples may prompt a similar sense of resolve for you. This is a list I have honed over the years.

  1. Express more appreciation for others. Make opportunities to offer a simple thank you. A word of encouragement affirms others and reduces stress for them and for us.
  2. Perform random acts of kindness. These gifts of grace ease the way for others.
  3. Plant a tree or a few flowers to brighten a corner of the world.
  4. Recycle. Doing so helps the environment and raises our awareness.
  5. Give a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. Kneel when you speak with a child. Call a person by name and look them in the eye. Personal contact enhances life.
  6. Vote. Your voice makes a difference for us all.
  7. Obey the law, especially when driving. Everybody benefits.
  8. Pray beyond your own circle of concern. Impart hope to others.

The best resolutions are not so much the ones that make us better individuals, but those that make the world a better place for us all.

Several years ago, I was headed out the door to church for a New Year’s Eve Watch Night communion service. We had entertained a houseful of teenagers earlier in the evening and had two large plastic trash bags filled with empty pizza boxes and discarded paper products. Clare asked if I would take the accumulated debris out of the house. I stuffed the black bags into the trunk of my car. I dashed to the church in time for the service delaying the dumping the refuse. After the service, after midnight, early on New Year’s morning, I drove home, completely forgetting about the unsavory cargo in the trunk of my vehicle. New Year’s Day and the day after came and went. On January third, I opened my car door for the first time since very early New Year’s morning. The three-day-old garbage made my car smell like a sanitation truck. I had carried last year’s garbage into the New Year! It is a mistake many of us make in our own personal lives.

A new beginning calls for focusing on blessings rather than difficulties of of the year past. We have the opportunity to make important decisions about how we will spend the gift of time in the year ahead. It is a good idea to dispose of last year’s emotional and spiritual garbage, leaving behind past hurts and grudges, as we begin this new year.

Out with the old! In with the new!

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