It’s January, and you know what that means: an endless barrage of “New Year, New You” advertisements from every marketing outlet available.
I’ve lost count of the number of ads I’ve seen for gym memberships, diet supplements, weight loss surgery and meal plans – all in just the handful of days we’ve been dating everything 2023 (or, if you’re like me, writing “2022,” then frantically scribbling it out or trying to make that last 2 look like a 3).
All the ads mention something about “getting back on track after the holidays” or “working on that hot summer bod.” No matter if I’m scrolling on Facebook or streaming something on the TV, the ads are incessant.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed. As much as I’ve seen New Year’s resolutions, I’ve also noticed that my social media timelines are full of more folks denouncing the idea of resolutions altogether. Turns out, folks have realized that “New Year” ads are synonymous with “body-shame market strategy,” and they aren’t subjecting themselves to it.
I was firmly in the “resolutions are ridiculous” camp last year, even going so far as to write a piece for my church’s blog called “Resolution-free for Me.”
I focused on the idea of recommitting to the things that give me life rather than focusing on the things that frustrate me. Because I didn’t set a way to track my thoughts, I’m still hesitant to call my “recommitments” “resolutions.” But part of me wonders if maybe we’ve been too hard on the idea of resolutions.
One of the (many) pitfalls of late-stage capitalism is the idea that something is only valuable if it is profitable: enter the endless “New Year, New You” sales and ads. We’ve lost something about what a resolution can be. Could it be that a resolution used to be something more meaningful, something more inspiring?
Resolution comes from the word resolve, which means “to decide firmly on a course of action.” In a world that constantly pulls us innumerable directions, I believe we could all use a little more resolve in our lives.
In a country where, according to the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth consider suicide and are four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide, we could use more folks who have decided firmly to make safe spaces for those kids.
In a country where underqualified white men get elected over fantastically qualified women of color again and again, we could use more folks who have decided firmly to dismantle systemic racism wherever they see it.
In a country where hate is so terribly loud, we could use more folks who have decided firmly to follow the sometimes-quiet way of Jesus by loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and by loving their neighbors as themselves.
When we take the commercialism out of New Year’s resolutions, we are given an opportunity to reevaluate our priorities and recommit ourselves to the things that matter.
It’s a chance to sit with ourselves and to take a moral inventory of how we spend our time and energy – to determine if the lives we’re living are the lives we want. Better yet, it gives us time to evaluate if the lives we’re living are lives wherein we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
Here’s the beautiful thing: time is subjective. If you find making resolutions every January overwhelming, there’s no rule saying that you only get to make resolutions in January – or that they have to last the whole year.
If you find yourself still coming out of the winter blues or emotionally recovering from the holidays, there’s no rule saying that you have to force yourself to make resolutions now.
Maybe your year follows the school calendar. Maybe your year cycles with the liturgical calendar. Maybe your year renews after tax season. Or maybe you’d rather measure your time by the seasons and not by your Google calendar.
However time works for you, you can resolve to focus on different things when it makes sense for you to – on your own timeline.
So, whenever your year starts, what course of action will you decide firmly upon this year? For me, I’ll continue to meditate on the words of this old hymn: “I have decided (firmly) to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently serves as the Pastor of Congregational Care at The Faith Community and works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.