The failure of New Year’s resolutions: Seeking goodness needs forgiveness


MONTGOMERY, Ala., January 12, 2014 — Millions of Americans join in the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. For many folks, those resolutions are repeats of last year’s resolutions, or perhaps even those from the year before.

And by now, a good week or so into the new year, we have already failed most of the promises we made to ourselves.

This is all very disheartening, leading to a familiar pattern: resolve, falter, get angry, give up. So many of us take a harsh and judgmental approach to our own efforts to change, at our very first stumble, rather than forgiving ourselves and resuming the business of moving forward. We just toss our hands in the air, look heavenward and mumble “why bother?”

The irony in this whole situation is that most people look at another person’s failure and think, that’s okay, just a bump in the road. Get up, dust off, forgive the mistake and keep going. This forgiveness comes so easily when looking at others, so why do we not grant ourselves that same grace?

Billy Graham once said, “Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.” He stumbled upon a helpful insight. Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to do, for yourself or for others. It is crucial. It is critical for our spiritual wellbeing, and just as important to it as goodness is.

It is no mistake that goodness and forgiveness are paired and given equal billing. Each depends upon the other, and a cycle of strengthened spiritual health begins when both are practiced in tandem.

Goodness, in some form, is what everyone wants to achieve when making resolutions. Among the most common New Year’s resolutions are weight-loss, exercise, paying off debts, and quitting bad habits.

In every cases the goal is betterment — an increase in goodness in some form.

Why do we universally seek goodness? The answer, as Graham remarked, is because it is necessary for our spiritual wellbeing. Why do many people fail so miserably year after year in this enterprise? They do not grant themselves the forgiveness necessary to move past the inevitable mistakes that accompany any worthwhile endeavor.

When people fail in their resolutions self judgment comes easily, but without any forgiveness waiting in the wings. Without it, the resolution dies, and the spirit suffers a blow.

Goodness and forgiveness are intertwined. Without forgiveness, goodness will never truly come. Likewise, without goodness, forgiveness cannot be genuinely given. Each requires and feeds the other. It’s an essential symbiosis for anyone’s spiritual growth and maturity.

The goodness we seek to achieve — the end result of a New Year’s resolution kept and conquered — not only nurtures spiritual health, but also demands forgiveness. There’s a bonus on top of following through and achieving our resolutions, because practicing forgiveness also strengthens our spiritual health.

The grand point of all of this? Cut yourself a break. Forgive yourself when you falter, because you will. Forgive, acknowledge the mistake, use it as an opportunity for spiritual growth and get back on track. Good luck, and Happy New Year. It’s not too late.

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