Why New Year Resolutions Don’t Work
It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner. There will be a need for some intentional commitment and some reorganization in our own lives. But there is nothing that will enrich our lives more than a deeper and clearer perception of God’s presence in the routine of daily living.” (William Paulsell)
Many who walk with God find it crucial to establish an annual Rule of Life. The Latin word “regula” means rhythm, regular pattern, a standard of conduct. Rather than a harsh list of negative regulations implying restriction, legalism, and limitations, “regula” invites a voluntary choice to let go of certain behaviors to focus on others. The result is greater freedom and joy, drawing us more deeply into love with God.
If you want to be physically healthy, you must eat wisely, exercise, and sleep. In the same way, if you want to become spiritually healthy, you must practice regular spiritual disciplines. Except in cloistered communities, most Rules differ from person to person. My own Rule changes every year – letting go of practices that are no longer meaningful and taking on something new that God may be inviting me to try. Each Rule is unique to your stage of life, your personality, your time constraints, and your need for growth in particular areas. The important thing is to intentionally establish personal rhythms and practices that shape your days and make space for God.
A Rule of Life should be life-giving, not restrictive. It should provide a sort of scaffold for growth. The trellis in my yard does not cause my grapevine to grow, but rather curbs its tendency to wander and offers structure and support to fragile new growth. A Rule acts as a plumb line, providing a still point from which you can gauge the intentionality of your spiritual journey.
Here are some examples:
- The early disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
- The ancient Rule of Benedict is still used in Benedictine communities today. Benedict wrote it as a guide for his extended family of brothers in their busy shared life, “a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.” He emphasized relationships of the monks bound in love as an alternative to the hierarchy and blind obedience prominent in the church. Living by a common Rule says to the world, “this is who we are; this is our shared story.”
- Joan Cronan, former Athletic Director at Univ. of TN, has lived by her personal Rule for years. She calls it BELLS:
Learn something new
Letter to someone
How do I write my own Rule of Life?
Be as specific, practical, and brief as possible. In other words, rather than “be more generous,” you might say “give a tithe to my church” or “serve one day/month at the food pantry.”
- Admit that you can’t do it all at once! I suggest adding only 1-2 new things to your Rule each year.
- How do I know what to add? Pray. Ask God and listen. You might ask:
What am I deeply attracted to, and why? Where do I feel resistance?
Where do I feel God is calling me to stretch and grow?
What kind of balance do I need in my life? (work/rest, community/solitude, service/prayer.)
For some practical suggestions, visit our Spiritual Disciplines page and view a Sample Rule of Life.
What’s the difference between a Rule of Life and New Year Resolutions–which are usually forgotten by February?
- Extend yourself plenty of grace and mercy, for we will fail from time to time. Failures help us realize our need for God. Recognizing our dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to grow in love and transforming grace.
- Living a godly life must be practiced in the context of community. We are never expected to make our journey alone. (This is why dieters have much better success when they are accountable to others.) If we insist we can do it alone, we encounter only loneliness, illusion, and discouragement. The Body of Christ is a gift we receive in humility for mutual encouragement, guidance, clarity, and love.
- Our desire and intent to love and serve God is far surpassed by the Lover of Souls’ divine passion drawing us “into the eternal, tender embrace of holy love that is our created destiny. Because God is patient and faithful, we can offer our stumbling, inconsistent efforts at a rule of life and know they will be accepted. As long as our desire is true and we are willing to persist despite many stalls, detours, and breakdowns, God’s grace will strengthen us to persevere. The goal is infinitely worth all the effort, confusion, and pain along the path.” (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast)
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (II Cor. 4:17-18)
How can we learn from one another? I’d love to hear from you!
Please post your questions, suggestions, or a copy of your own Rule of Life below.