Monday, December 30, 2013

4 Reasons Why Our New Year's Resolutions Never Seem New

The new year of 2014 is fast approaching and with it the daunting task of figuring out a new year's resolution. I know, another blog post about new year's resolutions, but hear me out. First, let me address the white elephant in the room. Why is it that nothing ever seems new about new year's resolutions? I know I have had somewhat the same resolutions for many years and I am sure I am not alone. Why is it that no matter how hard we fight, no matter how much we work out, no matter how many 12 step programs we go through, no matter how much money we save, these things just always seem to fail? What’s the deal here? I did some research and found that according to the most popular new year's resolutions are losing weight, getting organized, and saving money. Are these things bad in themselves? Of course not, especially with beach season fast approaching and those ever present student loans. So what is the real reason that new years resolutions never seem new? I would like to suggest a list of 4 reasons why new year's resolutions, mine included, may not be working and steps we can take to change that. (Cheesy titles included)

1) If the world were outer space you would be its biggest star                    

Have you ever stopped for a second just to think about how amazing you are? Because God made you incredible. Seriously, think about this mind-blowing reality for a second. You are a human being, and that means something around here. That means God created you with an intellect and a free will. Humans are the only creatures on this planet that can reason and choose. Not only that but we were created by love for love. 

I have a brief reflection for you. Think of the moment Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane right before his passion. The bible says he sweat blood. This verse is all too easily looked over. Many biblical scholars hold that Jesus literally sweat blood. It is a phenomenon called Hematohidrosis, and it is where your blood vessels have so much pressure on them they burst and the blood comes out in sweat. Jesus had the immense pressure of all of our sins on his shoulders. Think about the weight and pressure of not only your sins but every other sin in the world on this one man. Think of the pain he must have felt. Now, from the moment Jesus created you, he knew he would bear the weight of all these sins. 

And Guess what? You were worth it. Not just all of us as a human race, but you. You sitting right there reading this blog post. You were worth it and that makes you freaking awesome. You were worth it because God loves you. All too often we set out with new year's resolutions as a way to change our horrible selves into something at least a little beautiful. Don’t get me wrong; it is good to always strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, but if we think of ourselves as trash until we have accomplished these resolutions then we are wrong. You are awesome because God made you that way. 

"God bless us everyone." ~Tiny Tim

"You is kind, you is smart, you is important." ~Aibileen Clark from The Help

"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." ~Winnie the Pooh

Oftentimes the only thing holding us back from becoming the best people we can be is ourselves. So this year I challenge you, get over yourself. Realize your awesome and take that awesome self and get some resolutions under your belt.

2) Don’t let shame play the game

I have discovered there is a theme of what happens for most people with new year's resolutions. I know more then a few of these happen with me:  

  • We finally decide on a resolution that normally doesn’t have anything to do with how we see ourselves and everything to do with how we think others perceive us.
  • We try the resolution and ultimately fail because we fall off the path once, or get tempted, or lose faith, or whatever it may be.
  • Then comes the shame we feel because we didn’t do the thing we promised we would and so we hide and hope that we never told anyone about this resolution because we obviously aren’t keeping it,
  • And finally, we end up either eating all the chocolate in the world or all the bacon. (answers may vary)

Do these sound familiar at all? Think about it. We have a person who thinks they aren’t good enough, the person gets tempted and eventually falls, the person then is so ashamed that they start to hide what they have done, and then they turn to a counterfeit in their desperation that will not ultimately satisfy. Sounds a lot like the original fall of Adam and Eve to me. Really, the direct result of the original sin was shame. Adam and Eve became ashamed of themselves so they hid. I would suggest that this is a major road block to those new year's resolutions. 

First, don’t pick a resolution because of what others think of you; pick it because you want to better a part of yourself. Something that you want to work on. A practical example could be losing weight. If you want to workout every single day of 2014 and get super in shape and take care of your body then more power to you. I think that is great. But if you want to workout because you are ashamed of what you look like or what others might think of you, then maybe its time to rethink your motives. 

Or lets say you slip up one time on your resolution. Should you just give up and let shame win? Satan’s ultimate goal isn’t for us to rack up a bunch of sins. Jesus conquered sin on the cross. Satan loses that battle ten times out of ten because there is always mercy for those who ask. What Satan really wants is to get us to believe that the more we sin or the more we fail the less worthy we are of God’s love and certainly the less we should try. So this year I challenge you to stick it to the man if you will. Realize just how amazing you really are because of God and his mercy and don’t let that pesky shame get in the way.

3) You need desire to be inspired

Close your eyes for just a second. Now imagine you just found the cave of wonders from Aladdin and climbed the giant mushroom mountain to find a magical lamp. You rub the lamp and out pops a genie. This genie will give you three wishes, but they are not allowed to be shallow wishes, they must be things that you really truly desire. For example, we all desire love. That desire is inscribed into our very being because we were made in the image and likeness of God and God is love. So by default you are already one down.
But what are two other things you really desire? 

Keep your eyes closed and think of two. It might be that you want to mend a relationship with someone you may have hurt, it might be that you want to get all straight A’s next year in school, it might be getting closer to God and trying to go to mass more, it might be that you want to lose that pesky belly fat, or it might be the desire to finally ask that guy or girl out you have been stalking for months. It is different for everyone, that is what makes us unique, but what is it for you? 

I propose that resolutions will work better if they are things that we really truly desire. Not just shallow things that everyone does as a resolution or things maybe people want to see changed about you, but something specific to you as a person. Desire is a powerful thing and when we have a true desire to do something we are nearly unstoppable. So I challenge you to think about the things you really desire in this life, the things you really treasure, the things you want to make just a little bit better. Now open your eyes and go do them. You may start by getting the holes in your eyelids checked out if you were really able to read this entire section with your eyes closed.

And Finally….

4) Love is awesome

I tried to think of a catchy title for this, but words don’t give it justice. Many of you may know that I am kind of a romantic. I love, love. I could go on for days and days just writing about love.

Maybe at another time, but for this post all you need to know is that God is love and he created us in His image. Plain and simple. As I said above, the first desire of our hearts is for love. We all desire it whether we know it or not. That means that the amount of love you desire, is how much your neighbor desires love too. And you have the incredible opportunity of giving it to them. As I said before resolutions like losing weight or saving money are not bad, but maybe this year try to add one resolution to your list that works to better the world.

Who is that person that needs your love? Maybe it’s the person in Church you have never talked to, maybe its that kid in class who is really annoying and answers all the questions while arguing with the teacher, maybe its that guy or girl who looks like they have it all together but you have no idea what is going on underneath because you have never bothered to ask, or maybe its your best friend. Reach out with love to these people and though it may not be easy all the time, I promise it will be the most rewarding resolution of 2014. I end with the best quote of all time. "To love another person is to see the face of God." ~Les Miserables

So to recap...

Get over yourself. And I include myself in that. How about we all start realizing just how amazing we are because of God, stop letting shame influence our decisions, start realizing the true desires of our hearts, and just start loving people. Then maybe we can all join in one love and as the iconic Bob Marley said, "get together and feel alright." 

Happy Resolutioning and happy new year from all of us here at In The Beginning Ministries. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Would You Let the Holy Family Inn?

Can we really blame the Innkeeper who turned the Holy Family away? I know I can’t. It seems to me that, as much as we’ve glossed over the Nativity scene in our minds, the real thing was a sloppy, uncomfortable event, populated by people you and I most likely wouldn't want to spend time with.

The thing is, we really like to think of the Nativity in terms of the water-colored Christmas cards we send out each year. You know the ones I mean: a happy, clean, Caucasian baby Jesus surrounded by adorable little farm animals. But while there’s nothing objectively wrong with that, we can’t forget that the real beauty of the Nativity was in its messy, imperfect realness.  Mary, the Wise Men, the shepherds; they were all people the average “good Christian” wouldn't want to be seen with. Even Jesus’ extended family was – as my friend and colleague Brian Kissinger pointed out – more-or-less the original Island of Misfit Toys.

And yet, God loved these people and chose them not despite their brokenness, but in light of it. And this should be an inspiration to us, not just because it teaches us that we aren't beyond the love of God, but because it also calls us on to be kinder and more loving to exactly the kind of people who were present at the birth of Christ, those people who we might otherwise not be so kind and loving to.

The Shepherds

As central as shepherds were to ancient life, they were also considered social pariahs by Jewish law. Because they dealt with animals and muck, they were considered ceremonially unclean, and this meant they had to stay outside of the city, weren't allowed to pray with other people, and were generally considered to be the lowest rung on the social latter.

Put into a modern context, the shepherds of Jesus’ day could be compared with today’s homeless, and not the “with a heart of gold” kind you see in the movies, but more like the “we should probably cross to the other side of the sidewalk” kind you see in real life. They could also be compared to the poor, the mentally ill, the socially awkward, or anyone else who makes you uncomfortable to be around. And yet, the shepherds are the first to be told of the birth of Jesus. They are welcomed into the scene of Christ’s birth, the first citizens of the Kingdom.

The Magi

Despite tradition, the Magi weren’t “kings” or even particularly wise (by modern standards). Actually, they were fire priests of an ancient Pagan religion known as Zoroastrianism.

The Zoroastrians had a complex history with the Jews. A Persian religion, Zoroastrianism was one of the few ancient religions – including Judaism – that were monotheistic (meaning, they worshiped only one god). This similarity allowed for a surprising amount of religious dialogue between the Jews and the Zoroastrians and the two faiths ended up greatly impacting one another, with the Jews shaping the Zoroastrian concept of a single god and the Zoroastrians laying the ground-work for the Jewish understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, around the time of the prophet Daniel, the Zoroastrians started to experiment with polytheism, and by the time Christ was born, the Zoroastrians were straight-up worshiping fire.

So what’s the significance of having Zoroastrian Magi at the birth of Christ? Biblically, the Magi could represent all those who started out as followers of God – just as the Zoroastrians once were – but have since fallen away. Maybe the Magi are us in our weaker moments of faith, but I’d submit that the Magi are those friends and family members who've fallen away from the faith and who we no longer can get along with.

And yet, it is exactly this kind of person who Christ wanted at his birth. Sure, the Magi in our lives might arrive a little late to their faith, but Christ is calling them just as he called the Biblical Magi so long ago. In the mean time, it’s our job to love these people and realize that Christ makes a special place for them at his birth.


Mary was just a girl, maybe 16 (maybe 14, some say). Yes, she was engaged to be married, but she was still just a girl. As Catholics, we know that her child was the Son of God and that hers was a virgin pregnancy, but her friends and neighbors didn't know that.
In fact, part of the true significance of Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth is the fact that she would've looked completely normal when she left, but very, very pregnant once she arrived home, giving those she knew the opportunity to speculate and judge her.

I tear up to think of the pressure and stress young Mary must have been under, and isn't that the point? Christ made himself vulnerable through His Incarnation, but His Incarnation was made possible because Mary was so vulnerable. Now we see her as “Queen of Heaven and Earth” but once upon a time, she was just a scared, 16-year-old, pregnant Jewish girl.

Do you know somebody who, like Mary once was, is scared and vulnerable right now? Maybe it’s a young woman who really is pregnant out of wedlock. Have you reached out to her? And not just because you want her to keep the baby, but because you really care about her? Or maybe you know someone who’s just frightened and stressed and has a lot on their plate right now. Reach out to that person and be for them the comfort that the Angel of the Lord once was for Mary when he told her to “be not afraid”.


Sometimes it’s not the outcast shepherds or the fallen-away Magi or the scared virgins that are the hardest to show love to. Sometimes, it’s the Josephs of the world.

There’s not a lot that we know about Joseph’s personality, but we do know one thing: he was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). He was a hard worker, he was learned in the sacred scriptures, he was probably a well-respected leader in his community, and – in general – he seemed to have it all together. But, as much as his tendency towards righteousness made him incredibly holy, it also caused him his share of mistakes, like when he almost divorced his wife.

Often, I think, it’s hardest to love those people who are truly holy. Perhaps we envy them, or we feel judged by them, but whatever the reason, we sometimes look at righteous people and wait for them to make a mistake so that we can feel validated in our bitterness. But it doesn't mean a person’s not righteous anymore if they make a mistake. It means they’re human.

Imagine how scared Joseph must have been with all he had to face. Imagine how hard it must have been to trust God, to trust his bride, to trust in himself when the odds seemed so against him. And yet he remained righteous, desperately trying to keep it all together for his wife and son.

When we see someone like Joseph, it can be easy to try and find something wrong with them so we can feel better about ourselves. But the loving thing to do is to see how we can help these people, especially when they’re finding it difficult to keep it all together. If St. Joseph can make a mistake, surely the righteous men and women in our lives should be allowed to.

What it all means

Am I saying these are the only lessons to be drawn from the Nativity story? Of course not. Thousands of books can and have been written on the subject. Still, it’s good to take a step back now and again so that we can really look at the characters of the Nativity, who God called and loved not despite their weaknesses and imperfections but largely because of them. It’s good news for you and I who are most certainly imperfect, but it’s also a call to action to more intentionally love those who we might forget about in the day-to-day.

From all of us at In the Beginning Ministries,