Resolving to Remain Unresolved


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I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I get the basic premise: new year/new you. We can reflect and re-dedicate ourselves to perfection. It’s not a bad concept.

But New Year’s resolutions always struck me as a bit like my Lenten promises as a child. All you Catholics out there know what I’m talking about. There’s an art to choosing what you will give up during Lent. On one side of the scale, you have God giving up His son and Jesus giving up his earthly life. I’m not sure vowing to skip chocolate for a month quite measures up. Honestly, even at 8 and 9 years old, I knew there weren’t just a whole lot of things I could do to match such sacrifice.

I get the concept, of course. Our sacrifice is supposed to symbolically mirror the biblical one. We punish ourselves both in recognition of God’s sacrifice and to show our fidelity. Most importantly, we choose to sacrifice, and, for a good Catholic, we recognize our culpability in Christ’s death. It’s a token of both our fallibility and our possibility for eternal life.

But as a kid, the goal was to strike the grand bargain. What can I give up that sounds sufficiently “sacrificial” yet won’t make me totally miserable? (I know, I know. Before any of you crucify me—pun intended—I was already a pretty cynical kid in junior high so please don’t send long theological arguments explaining Lent and sacrifice.)

Chocolate was always my go to sacrifice, with qualifications. Candy was out; ice cream and milk by-products were okay because they were just chocolate-flavored. I could give up talking on the phone, but only if Lent coincided with either a lull in my social life (most of the time) or a time I was already grounded (or thought a grounding was imminent). One year, I gave up watching tv, but that was during baseball season when I was never home and we lived in a cable free home.

Blasphemous? Sacrilegious, you say? Probably. I’ve been called both before. Realistic? Definitely. I’ll not feel guilty for my humanity. (I’m not sure I’m always proud of my humanity, either, but it’s the only humanity I have.) Cut me some slack—like many of us, I’m just holding things together with bailing wire and duct tape.

New Year’s resolutions do differ a bit from Lenten promises. Whereas Lent requires sacrifice and reflection, a good resolution calls for proactive behavior that improves: eat less, lose weight, attend church more often (probably what some of think I should resolve to do), hug, love, exercise, start a blog, write a novel, clean the bathrooms more often (that one sounds like a Lenten sacrifice if you have kids at home), play more golf, play less golf, spend more time with the family (because you gave up golf), save more money, spend less money, drink less, be more positive (which might mean you can’t also vow to drink less), friend more, etc. The list can go on and on (and on).

But our resolutions, or at least the ones I hear people make (which might say a lot about the people I’m friends with), don’t require a new year as an impetus to completion. Certainly, if your resolution is to pay more taxes this fiscal year, you do have to start January 1st (and you get your wish this year!) but who in besides Warren Buffet wants to make that resolution?

Depending on January 1st to make improvements to our lives, though, is yet another attempt at the grand bargain. I’ll do X, but only after Y happens. We’re hedging our bets, setting ourselves up for a false resolution and, likely, a failed resolution (and a treadmill collecting dust in the living room).

I know, of course, that there are plenty of people out there who make resolutions and stick to them. I applaud the sentiment and the desire for change but self-improvement can’t be dependent on a particular time of year. We should be dedicating ourselves daily to continuous improvement, daily self-reflection, and our sense of purpose in this life. Tomorrow, as the cliché tells us, never comes. A new year, flipping the calendar, won’t make us different, more disciplined, or any more capable of change than we were yesterday.

Simply put—being different isn’t apropos of what day it is and, it seems to me, focusing on a series of resolutions simply encourages us make pledges we find either too unrealistic or too simplistic. So this year, in my grand attempt at self-improvement, I resolve to remain unresolved. I think I’ll start today and I’ll let you all know how that goes next year at this time.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Resolving to Remain Unresolved

  1. Pingback: Building Happiness: Sacrifice on the Eve of Lent

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