A new year, a new chance for joy

A Christmas gift to motivate consistency in changing habits: This runner's calendar has already helped me. (GSR photo / Dan Stockman)

It's that time of year when our New Year's resolutions are being given up on. And if you're like me, you feel guilty about it.

Actually, my guilt starts long before — when I'm making the resolutions in the first place, because then I'm reminded of what a failure I've been over the last year.

Once again, I'm resolving to lose weight.

Once again, I'm resolving not to curse like a sailor, even if it's only in my own head.

Once again, I'm resolving not to yell at the kids as often or as loudly.

Once again, I'm resolving to pray more.

Once again, I'm resolving to love more and hate less.

Once again, I'm reminded that every year, I make the same resolutions, and every year, I have to make them again because they went by the wayside months ago. And once again, I feel like I have failed.

But not this year.

For Christmas, my wife bought me The Complete Runner's Day-By-Day Log and 2017 Calendar by Marty Jerome, sort of a runner's diary so you can track your progress. I haven't felt well in a while and haven't been able to run, so she was hoping the diary would be an inspiration to get me back on the road.

It's already inspired me in other ways, as well: In addition to the calendar and log pages, every so often, there's a short essay on running, motivation, injuries or what-have-you. The first one is about how easy it is to get bogged down by the past when you're coming back to running.

Man, can I relate.

Just like in many things in life, those first few runs when you come back can be painful. You've forgotten how hard it is. You're surprised at how much stamina you've lost. You remember you have hips and that they're nearly 50 years old. Just like we forget how hard it is to say no to dessert and yes to salad.

But even worse, those painful reminders also emphasize that we haven't been running. Or dieting. Or praying. Or giving up the things we can do without. They remind us of how we've failed.

But there's another way to look at it, Jerome writes: "Do yourself this favor: Do not moralize. Forget the past, the runner you were or wanted to be. You owe nothing to a prior training program, no debt to a muddied racing bib or a cherished trail. Baby, you are born again."

Reading that, I was instantly reminded that the sacrament of reconciliation isn't about sin. It isn't about guilt. It's about forgiveness. And starting over shouldn't be about failure. It should be about making a new start.

Jerome writes that a runner's memory is both a treasure and a curse because it lets you know what's ahead and prepares you for the down days, injuries and the long slogs. But it also reminds you of when you didn't make your goals, of how hard it all can be and, of course, that you're starting over yet again.

You can listen to those ghosts of failure — whether it's in running or your prayer life or resisting peanut butter pie — or you can treat past experiences as wisdom and look at the new start with joy because you're coming into it knowing how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

So maybe you've already broken this year's resolutions, or maybe you didn't even make any because you've given up. That's OK, because no matter how I try, I will still sin, too, and I will still need forgiveness. Does that mean I'm a failure? Or does it mean that God's mercy knows no bounds, no matter how I seem to try to find them?

God made us weak, and he did it on purpose. Which means the only way we can really fail is by not starting over. Those new starts —in running or dieting or falling into sin — are not failure. They're yet another sign of God's forgiveness and yet another chance to get it right.

Time to dig out my running shoes.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]