I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. They last about three days—a week at the most. Maybe the most disciplined among us will make it a month. But a year? Forget it. By December, I can’t even remember what I so earnestly “resolved” on January 1. The extra ten pounds do not magically fall away, anxiety over life circumstance is not tamed, and the new endeavor is never even begun.
I’ve practiced yoga for almost two decades. Many times, the teacher instructs us to set an intention for the class. It doesn’t matter what it is. No one ever asks. Or cares. Each participant is encouraged to remember their individual intention for the hour—
A troubled relationship.
Loosening a tight hip.
A friend’s illness.
Only this one concentrated thought matters for sixty minutes. It’s hard to choose just one, but I do. I offer it up and let it go. I breathe. I inhale hope. And exhale toxic thoughts. I tighten muscles to hold difficult positions; I sweat and I rest. It’s like physical prayer. The focus doesn’t fix anything—nothing is miraculously different by the end of class.
Except for me.
I am changed. I walk out lighter than when I came in. I may have raced through traffic to get to class on time, anxious and burdened. But as I leave, I’m calm. And I face the day with a completely different outlook. I look up at the sky. I smile.
I decided to try this with each new year: Setting an intention. One thing to focus on during the 365 days that follow. It’s hard to choose just one, but after considering each option the most important rises to the top of the list.
And then I commit it to God.
It’s my yearly prayer focus. I write it down and enter it in a “sticky note” on my iPhone. When I forget my intention, it’s just a click away. I shared this idea last year with the group of young moms I mentor. Some of their intentions were simple, yet profound—
A working single mom with five children desired to ask for what she needs, and to love herself as she loves others (a hard thing for her to do).
Another wanted quiet faithfulness.
Another sought to reset her natural “beast mode” to “Spirit mode” in the mornings, being kinder and gentler with her family, and to smile more.
Another with a quick temper wanted to remember to think before she speaks—to her young children and her husband.
Sometimes the intention is a dual focus; occasionally it’s three separate yet related things like peace—presence—and purpose. Last year my intention was to extend a ministry of grace (or loving acceptance) to others. And to remember to give the same grace to myself.
I had ample opportunities to practice my intention. When I became irritated with someone—whether a family member or the annoying woman in the check-out line having an in-depth conversation with the salesperson while others piled up behind me—I remembered grace. I breathed deeply and let go of my agitation. I said a short prayer for the other person, and for me. When I berated myself because I forgot something on my pages-long “to do” list, I said out loud, “Lighten up. Look at all the things you’ve remembered to do today!” Each time, I strengthened my spiritual muscles by remembering my focus.
Whatever the intention, it colored moments, days, and months of the new year with shades of meaning beyond what was hoped for. And like yoga, the practice didn’t really change anything.
Except for me.