What keeps us from pursuing our resolutions? Surely, it isn’t the goal itself that’s frightening (daunting maybe, but not frightening in and of itself), but rather the many twists and terrors that lie between us and the goal. We move on valiantly toward our destination only to hit wall after wall, leaving us discouraged and disappointed in ourselves. The progress we’ve made, no matter how great or small, feels as if it’s for naught. We may even find ourselves missing square one, that moment before we even made that resolution to move toward betterment. It was so much easier then, wasn’t it?
I think it is reasonable to believe that the vast majority of us would like to succeed and be victorious in our struggles. We see it all the time, especially in children when they achieve some small victory, such as fitting the right puzzle pieces together or pronouncing a word correctly when learning how to read for the first time. Do you still remember how it felt to achieve that small victory? A sense of pride swelled up in you and for a moment, you felt like you could achieve anything! Children especially seem to have a healthy grasp of diligence and unfettered determination to conquer even the smallest difficulties. We were all there once.
But then one day we grew up and forgot what it felt like to succeed. We had bigger and deeper battles to fight, and the prospect of fighting was no longer exciting. It became painful. Excruciating. The cost seemed to outweigh the supposed victory on the other side of the struggle. After a time, it became so much easier to simply surrender to the struggle and give up. After all, living with this bad habit isn’t so bad now, is it? This complacency, if untended, can worsen until a much drearier mentality develops: “I can’t be helped. There’s no point in trying. I’ve given up. I know I can’t change. I am the way that I am, and I can’t be saved.” Such is the influence of the spirit of Despair, which leads us to settle for this fallen state when the fight feels too impossible to fight.
In this time of Lent, many of us have made some resolutions with a desire for some level of self-mastery and detachment from worldly things, whether it’s fasting from sweets or fasting from swearing. Every battle is noble with the right intention. You may be at that point where you miss the apparent “freedom” that comes with not checking yourself constantly or you may be frustrated with your buddy, alarm, or even an app that’s been holding you accountable to keep a steady course toward your resolution. We’re told freedom lies beyond the battle, but it can be difficult to imagine such a thing when slavery to our physical and mental compulsions is all we know, and if one thing is guaranteed, it is numerous difficulties every step of the way if we choose to battle them.
Think back to the Gospel of John at the beginning of the 5th chapter, where Jesus encounters a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years and has never made it to the pool where, when the waters are stirred by the angel of the Lord, the first person to make it to the pool is cured. Jesus asks him a simple, yet profound question: “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” (John 5:6-7) The man complains, glossing over Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be well?”
Consider something that you struggle with right now. Perhaps you are dealing with an ailment of the body like the man by the pool. Perhaps you are struggling with a disease of the mind such as depression or anxiety, which also manifests itself in the body as well. Or perhaps you are struggling in the will, the heart, or the spirit. Whatever the ailment, Christ asks us the same question He asked the sick man: “Do you want to be well?” We have to look deep inside ourselves to answer this question. Some of us may harbor some anger, resentment, grief, or fear that we cling to and enjoy its familiarity a little too much. Christ knows this and He knows what it is doing to perpetuate our illness. His heart breaks for us as He watches us suffer in such darkness. He wants us to be well, extending the invitation of total healing for both body and soul, the likes of which may seem impossible from our place of woundedness, much like the sick man by the pool must have felt. It takes a great deal of courage and faith to finally say, “Yes! I want to be well.”
Okay. We are resolved to be healed. But a long, arduous struggle lies ahead. How do we know that we can make it to the end?
Let us return once more to Chapter 25 of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ for an encouraging answer: “There was once a man who was very anxious, and wavered between fear and hope. One day, overcome with sadness, he lay prostrate in prayer before the altar in church, and pondering these matters in his mind, said, ‘Oh, if only I knew that I should always persevere!’ Then he heard within his heart an answer from God: ‘If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would then, and all will be well.’ So, comforted and strengthened, he committed himself to the will of God, and his anxious uncertainty vanished.”
I think we have all been the man in this story at some point or another. Whether it’s a difficult project we are facing or a bad habit we are desperately trying to break, all we want is to persevere and succeed despite the struggles. It is part of why we connect with heroes in so many stories that have been told for centuries, both fictional and historical: a hero faces numerous setbacks and impossible odds, but we clutch our seats and watch with growing anticipation for his ultimate victory despite every obstacle. After all, we love those happy endings because they teach us that in spite of everything, victory is indeed possible. God is telling us in His generosity that He will ALWAYS see us through to the end. All that He asks of us is to cooperate with His graces and press forward with a holy stubbornness and confidence in Him as well as in ourselves. There will be setbacks. There will be backsliding. But there will be victory in Christ for those who embrace the power of the resurrection. As Pope Saint John Paul puts it: “…[Saint] Paul looks ahead toward the final victory over sin and death, of which Christ’s resurrection is a sign and pre-announcement…” (TOB 51:4).
As we begin this Holy Week, let us resist the urge to give up in the face of temptation, and thereby terrify the devil because he knows that we are assured victory under God’s mantle. If you knew that you ultimately couldn’t fail, what would you do then? Here is your resolution: do now what you would do if you knew you would persevere, and you will be victorious in our Risen Lord.
Kathleen Ramirez is a University of Dallas alumna and works part-time for TOBET. She enjoys writing and illustrating children’s/young adult books in her free time.