Be Yourself. Do What You Love. Dream Big. Follow your Heart. Each new year brings a universal call to self improvement. New Year’s Resolutions, because you have to be resolute in your determination to change. Synonyms of resolute are: firm, stanch, unyielding, stubborn. Does it seem sometimes that the slogans found on girls’ t-shirts and Target home décor are at odds with the underrated virtue of self-discipline? I mean, “be yourself” doesn’t that kind of imply “don’t change” shouldn’t we all try to be better than ourselves?
Do what you love? Is that even financially responsible? I much prefer “love what you do,” after all happiness is about perspective. Dream Big seems like it would set up lofty unachievable goals of high powered jobs, mansions and ponies, maybe even a convertible like Barbie; all destined to fall short with feelings of inadequacy. But more bothersome than that is the implication that our unbridled dreams would even hold a candle to what the Lord wants for us. We will always be limited to our own imaginations, but seeking, finding, and following God’s will for our lives is the joy on the journey. Joy that fills us up and overflows isn’t found in the things dreams are made of. The best things in life aren’t things. Do I follow my heart or follow Jesus? Can I do both? What does Jesus say about the hearts of men?
“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” Mark 7:21-23
It seems to me that if you are following your heart you may very well be following folly. Our hearts are part of our bodies so there is something carnal and instinctual about that, but they are also the center for love so there is an emotional feeling component too. Can we trust our hearts? Cue early 90s Patty Smyth, “There’s a danger in loving somebody too much, and it’s sad when you know it’s your heart you can’t trust.” I’m gonna put my bet with trusting Jesus and encourage my daughters to do the same no matter what their shirts say. Importantly, we should ask the Lord to purify our hearts then we can follow them!
“A clean heart create for me, God.” Psalm 51:12
Sin feels natural. It is easy and comfortable and feels good in the beginning. The devil preys on the weakness of the flesh and the blindness of the heart. The Tempter is gratified as we fall to gluttony- YES have a 3rd slice of deep dish pizza. He fans the flame of our anger in hopes we’ll use stabbing words with those we love the most. He will inflate our egos so we look down on everyone else and even dwarf God. He can make lust feel so good it would seem impossible for it to be wrong. The seeds of all the deadly sins are already in our hearts he just tills and tends (often using our secular culture) and watches our sin take root.
Hark! Hear the intellect and use your will-power! We can conquer nonsense with reason and sin with virtue! The Lord may be mysterious, but He is reasonable and rational, thus to some extent He is knowable in our hearts and minds. So take advantage of the Lord’s mercy, if you are Catholic use the sacrament He gave us to wipe the slate clean. Confession isn’t something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! Start a new page and overcome whatever is holding you back in life. What sin is coming between you and a deeper relationship with God? New Year’s Resolutions may be secular, but they are a great opportunity to reflect on where we can improve in our lives. How can I better my physical, mental, and spiritual health? I recently read (can’t remember where now) that if the devil can’t get you to do the wrong thing, he will try to get you to do the right thing wrongly.
A bit of a zinger! Are we doing the right thing wrongly? That devil is so sneaky! I recently read a tidbit about St. Margaret of Antioch; she is often depicted as defeating a dragon. Legend holds that while she was imprisoned for her Christian beliefs the Devil in the form of a dragon devoured her. However, she escapes by the power of her crucifix which caused the devil to regurgitate her. This story may seem all fiction, but I can see the spiritual truth. She lived around 300AD a time when Roman emperors went out of their way to persecute early Christians unto death. St. Margaret after much enduring in the way of medieval torture faced certain mortal death. The devil appeared in the guise of Despair and tried to consume her using fear. However, he completely underestimated the resolve of her faith and she roils in his belly (or lodges in his throat if you prefer that version) because she is holding onto Christ Crucified. The cross, the only place where suffering and persecution make sense. And from Christ Crucified she draws her spiritual weapons of hope and blessed assurance conquering the Dragon in the face of Death. And who could say if it was Christ working through her or if she was working through Christ? Where does one end and the other begin, it is an enviable intimacy with our Savior. It seems some of the most compelling love stories are those of forbidden love and we see in the stories of consecrated virgin martyrs how love always wins in the end. Although some details maybe lost or stretched through time you can hardly contest her martyrdom. Margaret’s love for Christ was so strong she was willing to die for it and her death converted and inspired many. And she got her happily forever after with her Beloved. Instead of being myself I want to be like St. Margaret the Dragon Slayer!
Similar is this zinger:
“If the devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy.”
Speaking of slaying, can we also slay some of our busyness in 2018? My husband and I are intentional in keeping our schedules managed in part for our sanity, but also because it seems when schedules get crammed it is God that gets crowded out. Many Christians go to Church on Sundays because Sunday is the first day of the week; God is our first priority. So as you begin to write on your new page be resolute to: Put God at the top, Be a better version of yourself; Do what the Lord of Love wants you to do, Dream in God’s Big Ways, and Follow your heart AND intellect.
Steve SebergerJanuary 4, 2018
Several great points.
A couple months ago a friend chewed me out because I helped out with a charity event, but he says it was apparent to everybody that I didn’t want to be there. He was right, I didn’t want to be there, but I judged it was important that somebody be there to help so I stepped up. He said “you shouldn’t do anything that you’re not 100% in favor of”. This is a different angle of the same “follow your heart” sentiment. If there is something good that needs to be done, but I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. I disagree. I think service organizations all over are struggling to get things done because more and more members are deciding that they don’t have to do anything that they don’t feel like doing. I’m currently leading such an organization and I am only doing that because nobody else would do it, not because I enjoy it.
I think you hit it on the head when you said we can’t always do what we love. We need to follow God’s call, and then love what we do.
Steve SebergerJanuary 4, 2018
Adding to what I already wrote. I think a big part of loving what we do comes from the feedback we get from others when we do it. Therefore, the feedback I give others is a big determinant of whether or not they are going to keep doing it. Therefore, if you see something you like, compliment and affirm. This is a form of the golden rule–affirm as you would have others affirm you. There is way too much criticism and way too little praise for people doing good.
I challenge everyone who reads this to resolve to give more compliments and affirmation. Find someone to affirm every week. It’s not hard. It doesn’t take a lot of time or energy and it costs nothing. Do it!
EmilyJanuary 4, 2018
Good point, I am going to try to be slower to criticize and quicker to compliment.
JillJanuary 4, 2018
I love these thoughts Steve! Alright, here’s to trying to live them out, a new Week starts in a few hours! “His mercies are new every morning!” -Lamentations something 😉