Forget the Beach Bod. Try These Soul Resolutions Instead.

I never know how to think about New Year’s resolutions or whether to make them. On one hand, I am drawn to the idea of new beginnings. I love the intentionality and thoughtfulness that are required to make a resolution. They force me to reflect on what I long for, what the good life might consist of and how to get there, which is a good exercise for all of us at any time.

On the other hand, I am lousy at discipline. So resolutions, to me, can feel ungracious, a yearly visit from a disgruntled drill sergeant, an occasion for needless guilt. This ambivalence springs from a tension I feel between the responsibility to actively seek self-improvement and the reality that, in the end, everything most lovely in life — from love to salvation to goodness to joy — comes as a gift. It is all a mercy. Even our ability to strive toward change is a gift, a grace and not exactly in our control, which is clear to anyone who has ever planned a productive day only to be sidelined by a head cold, a migraine or a broken transmission.

The point of resolutions shouldn’t be to add another task to our busy lives or another brick on the crushing and cruel burden to “do better.” The point is that renewal is always possible, and with a large dollop of grace we can freely try new things; we can continue to grow and change. Last year I asked writers, scholars and spiritual leaders to suggest resolutions that weren’t focused on sculpting a beach body or maximizing one’s earning capacity but were instead practical ways to nourish one’s soul or the “soul” of our society. I heard back from many readers who found delight in trying one or two (or more) of these suggestions, so we’re back again for the second annual “reSOULutions,” this time for 2023.

Begin the day reading about faith.

I’m the early bird of my household. Most days, I’m up before first light. So why do I spend that first precious hour doomscrolling in bed? Even after I get up, brush my teeth and pray, I too often return to things that make me mad on my screen. During Ramadan, I do things differently. I get out of bed immediately after waking, say my prayers, set my intention for the day and then open a physical book about faith (most often about Islam, but not always). I find it so elevating. One purpose of time-bound religious rituals like Ramadan and Lent is to help us reflect upon, and improve, our regular routines. I’m going to use New Year’s to try to bring the practice of beginning the day with a physical book about faith into my everyday life.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America

Narrow your news focus.

As a journalist, I encounter many subjects on which I’m rarely, if ever, willing to comment. It’s not that I think they’re unimportant. On the contrary, I think they’re too important for me to speak from ignorance, and I know I don’t have the background knowledge to give these topics their due.

As a news consumer, consider a similar practice: Resolve to know just a few stories and to know them well. Your time and attention are limited. You can’t do justice to every issue of the day, and maintaining a broad, shallow pattern of news consumption makes you vulnerable to manipulation and confusion. So this year, pick at most half a dozen big stories to follow carefully and in depth. Read books, not just the latest headlines. Learn key names and legislation. Find trustworthy journalists to keep you up-to-date. Then remember your finitude and ignore everything else.

Bonnie Kristian, journalist and author of “Untrustworthy” and “A Flexible Faith”

Create silence.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has some great wisdom for our age: “Create silence! The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.” We need to create silence by spending less time with our screens and being more mindful of the people around us. We need to learn to be still and bask in the gift of the presence of God and our neighbors.

If we don’t create silence, then we may find ourselves engaging in noisy monologues. This is certainly a path to a divisive and violent cacophony. God created us as reflections of his Word to be part of a harmonious symphony.

Roland Millare, theologian at the St. John Paul II Foundation and author of “A Living Sacrifice”

Write one letter every week.

In a world where a majority of communication is done through a device, the act of writing and receiving a letter has become even more precious. I will write one letter a week to someone I love or cherish, and I will happily imagine the recipients’ delight to find a handwritten note in the midst of their daily bills and mailers.

Karina Yan Glaser, children’s book author and illustrator

Confront your sorrow.

I love how “courage” derives from the Latin word for “heart.” In the coming year, I want to courageously acknowledge specific ways in which my heart has been broken — by people, by racism, by institutions and even by God — so that I can pursue the healing I need. If we want to be agents of healing to our hurting world, we must courageously and continuously pursue the healing of our own hearts.

— Rev. Michelle T. Sanchez, author of “Color-Courageous Discipleship” and “God’s Beloved Community”

Forget balance and embrace grace.

Every year I strive to achieve the ever-elusive work-life balance, only to reach a place of imbalance. Then disappointment, frustration, uncertainty, anxiety, irritability — or any combination of these — set in. This year, instead of feeling that I’m neglecting family during times of work, neglecting work during time with family or friends or feeling guilty about a lack of productivity during times of relaxation or reflection, I’ll embrace each moment and more deliberately invite grace into my life.

Instead of wallowing in perceived failures, we can pause (even for a couple of minutes) to engage in focused breathing, meditation, prayer or expressions of gratitude. Doing so will benefit our brain health and emotional wellness. Balance is a false construct of a task-based world. Grace allows every one of us to invite peace and harmony into our soul.

— Nii Addy, neuroscientist, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University and host of the “Addy Hour” podcast

Gather, feast and rest with others.

I’ve practiced Sabbath keeping weekly with my family for nearly 15 years. Having a regular rhythm to stop, rest, delight and contemplate has been soul-forming. Over the past two years, however, I’ve discovered a deepening need to gather with others more intentionally on this day for unhurried conversation, good drink and play. The word “gather” will be a significant word for me. After a pandemic season of being scattered, my wife and I will create spaces for others to belong. Feasting is not something that should be highlighted in our lives a handful of times a year — most notably during the holidays. Feasting needs to be a regular spiritual practice of savoring the gifts of God in the form of people and food, and creative spaces for connection.

Rich Villodas, pastor and author of “Good and Beautiful and Kind”

Practice nonviolence, even internally.

My resolution is to practice nonviolence in my head and heart. Every morning, after praying, I read the paper and find myself hating on Vladimir Putin and the Russians for the enormous and unprovoked suffering they have unleashed on Ukraine. I can’t do much to stop that war, but I can stop the war in my head and stop the hate in my heart. Nonviolence begins with converting myself.

Bill Cavanaugh, theologian at DePaul University

Think small.

As somebody who reflects on ethical failure for a living, I have realized how often I get overwhelmed with big problems in our world or my own life, and then assume I need to find an equally big solution right away. This year, I am going to try to take to heart the advice Pope Francis gave to focus first on the small moments of peaceful encounter with the good and with God in our everyday lives. Often it is these small moments of grace which “transmit the joy of living and suggest further good initiatives.”

Elisabeth Rain Kincaid, Legendre-Soulé chair of business ethics and director of the Center for Ethics and Economic Justice at Loyola University New Orleans

Seek the wisdom of elders.

Everyone I know has an area of their life they are unsure what to do with. Our physical health, financial well-being, relational confusion. We do our best, but honestly, we are a mess. We may turn to Google, TikTok or Amazon for a solution, but we still feel stuck and confused. Before all of these mediated places of advice, we used to go to village elders and ask for wisdom. They were the people who knew our lives and our family histories. They could see our individual strengths and weaknesses. From this vantage point they could offer nuanced and practical advice — ancient wisdom that was able to be applied specifically to our circumstances. We need this again. We need eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee, heart-to-heart advice — counsel that comes from wisdom but is offered from flesh-and-blood people who will see it through with us. Pastors, parents and grandparents can watch our progress and celebrate, as well as challenge us. This requires getting up close to people and being vulnerable. But isn’t that what we all really need?

Jay Pathak, national director for Vineyard U.S.A., a network of churches

Thank you, friends, for your wisdom, thoughtfulness and inspiration! Again this year, I think I’ll start small and pick one or two of these that feel challenging and hopeful to me. All of them require some effort and more than a little grace.

Have feedback? Send a note to [email protected].

Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of “Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep.”

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