Tips for setting achievable resolutions

It’s a running joke every January at the fitness club I attend. One of the “regulars” looks around the packed club and grouses, “Why are there so many people here?” Someone else inevitably replies, “Just wait until February.”  

It’s so true. If you search online for the “top 10 broken New Year’s resolutions,” losing weight and getting fit is number one. Another online statistic reports that about only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. Ouch. I’m no scientist, but attempting something repeatedly with such low probability of success seems a little futile. 

So why do we even bother to make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe it’s human nature to want a fresh start in a new year. Maybe it’s in response to eating way too many Christmas cookies and not wanting to buy bigger pants. Whatever it is, it’s also a part of human nature to try—and sometimes fail—at making lasting, positive changes in our lives. 

So should we even try? And should we encourage our children to set New Year’s resolutions? I think that everyone needs some achievable, tangible goals, even if they aren’t written in red pen on January 1 on our calendars. But here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Resolutions should be realistic, measurable, and tackled in manageable chunks. Instead of vowing, “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year!” perhaps start with: “I am going to commit to walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.” And who doesn’t want to commit to spending more time in God’s Word? So, if “I am going to read through my entire Bible this year” seems too daunting, try: “I am going to find a manageable Bible reading plan and read my Bible for 10 minutes each day.”
  • Accountability can help us make positive changes in our lives. There are times my husband has had to pull me, groaning and griping, off the couch to get me to exercise. There are times I’ve done the same for him. Families are great accountability groups. Parents, try sitting down with your kids and asking them for three realistic, measurable goals for the new year. Ask: What steps do you need to take to achieve these? How can I help you stick to these goals? Then parents, you do the same. Set goals for yourselves, share them with your kids, and ask them to keep you accountable. Pray as a family for God to bless your efforts and give you strength to achieve your goals. And don’t forget to celebrate every little victory along the way.
  • Ask God’s forgiveness—and forgive yourself—when you stumble. We’re human. We fail every day. What a comfort it is having a loving God who forgives our failures through the blood of his Son, Jesus!

And ultimately, remember that even the best resolutions can fail. We can plan and plan and try and try, but some things are beyond our control. Stuff happens. Remember, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the  LORD  establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Some things we want just aren’t in God’s plan for our lives, and that’s okay. Knowing that our loving God already has the entirety of our lives mapped out in his perfect plan is a huge comfort to us—and to our kids. 

Teaching kids to work toward goals

I’ve never liked the term resolution. It has an ugly connotation in my mind of failed attempts at weight loss and unsustainable, temporary life changes. For several years now, my husband and I have spent New Year’s Eve setting goals rather than resolutions for the coming year. We record them on one of our phones and keep each other in check on achieving those goals. This process is meant to be fun more than anything—a chance to learn a new skill or shave a few minutes off a race time, but they can also be geared toward strengthening our faith life, both personally and as a family. 

Our kids are often a part of this process, more our daughter than our young son (who would rather just snitch leftover Christmas cookies while the grownups are distracted!). We encourage Anna to set goals for herself as well. Anything from learning a new skill to reading the Bible daily to training for a race. 

When I think of goals versus resolutions, one thing stands out to me. Resolutions tend to be an immediate, often dramatic change in behavior, while goals are achievable, eventual changes that can be measured. Teaching our kids to work toward goals will be a huge help to them as they grow in their personal and professional lives, and we’re (hopefully) showing them that it’s not a scary process to tackle. 

Setting goals for personal change can be a good thing, if we don’t allow it to become an idol for ourselves. I believe involving our kids in our tradition allows them to see their parents working toward—and often achieving—fun and reasonable accomplishments. It also allows them to see us struggle or fail occasionally. We can pray about our progress together. We can work together on spiritual goals like family devotion time or family service projects. Working toward and achieving goals as a family and supporting each other in our personal goals has been a wonderful bonding experience for our family—something we all look forward to each year. 

How to keep resolutions from fizzling out

“Hudson, my man! Let’s talk about the club we’re starting.” 

Hudson is my eight-year-old grandson. In January 2018, Hudson and I are founding a photography club.  

“I have ideas about how to make sure our club doesn’t fizzle out,” I say. “Want to hear them?”  

“Sure.”  

I show him the note app on my phone. “I have seven suggestions. Tell me what you think. The first is that we promise each other to keep our club going. Can we shake on that?” 

Hudson slaps his hand into mine. We shake hands like we are making a million-dollar deal.  

The second thing is to tell others about our club. It will be harder to quit if others know we’re doing this. Better yet, we can give permission to one or two people to encourage us. I’m going to tell Nana. Whom will you tell?” 

His face squinches in thought. “Mom and Dad.” 

“Good choice. They’ll want to help.”  

“Here’s the third thing. We can tell Jesus we’re doing this and ask for his help. Would you be willing to pray about our club?” 

Hudson nods his commitment. 

The next thing we can do is schedule our club meetings. If I don’t put a meeting on my calendar, I probably won’t have time for it. Would the second Saturday of each month work for you?” Hudson looks uncertain. “Let’s ask your parents if that would be okay.”  

Number five: we need a sign to remind us. Something for my office. Something for your room. Would you make us each a sign? Maybe it could say, ‘Remember the photography club.’ ” 

“I could do that, I guess,” he answers. “I could draw with a bunch of colors so we won’t miss seeing it.” 

“That sounds great. Thank you.” 

Number six is that we reward ourselves for sticking to our commitment. What if we go to Culvers for a frozen custard cone in July?” 

“Yes. That would be cool!” 

“Okay. I have one more idea to help us keep our New Year’s resolution. Let’s decide we will do our photography club first of all to thank Jesus for loving us. Does that make sense?” 

Hudson ponders for a moment. “Yes, it does,” he says. “Papa, I can’t wait to start our club. It’s going to be fun.” 

“It will, Hudson. Let’s hug on it.” 

Cultivating a mission heart in children

These are my five ways to cultivate a mission heart in children.

1. Build awareness: When I was a young child (think three years old), I thought that everyone knew and believed in Jesus. As I grew older, the reality that a kind neighbor, relative, or friend in my small world didn’t believe was heart boggling. What did that mean for them?

When children learn that not everyone believes in Jesus, they can feel sad. We have the opportunity to build them up. We know Jesus and the comfort that God our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

That knowledge comes with an opportunity. God gives us—young and old—the privilege to share the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Romans 10:13,14 says, “ ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

It is such a joy to witness children sharing their faith! They talk about Jesus with their neighbor, the hurt child at the playground, or even the cashier at the store. When children learn that they carry the powerful good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with them, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves.

2. Be an example: Children imitate what they see more than what they are told. As we consider how to cultivate a mission heart in young ones, we first need to discern our own heart.

  • Do we hold Jesus as our own example to follow?
  • Do we view lives from an earthly perspective or an eternal one?
  • Do we believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ in whatever job or role we have?
  • Are we willing to make personal sacrifices (time, comfort, materials) for the good of others?
  • Do we treat and speak about others who are different from us with compassion and respect?

When I was a young teen, my dad asked me to accompany him on his guitar for the new Spanish worship services at our church. At the time, I did not want to share my time or talents, but out of reluctant obedience I agreed. God certainly reached more than the Spanish-speaking believers who walked through the door. He changed my heart as I watched families strengthened in their faith with others in worship and got to know them personally.

Now I greatly treasure that experience. My dad not only encouraged me to serve others but also took me by the hand and led me by his example. He still does. Thank you, Dad!

As 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

3. Use resources: There are many different tools that can cultivate a mission heart in children:

  • Read and talk about God’s Word. This is where children learn their own need for a Savior and see that the entire Bible points to Jesus as their risen hero who has won eternal life by grace for them. The Spirit strengthens their faith, knowledge, and heart through the Word to share the gospel.
  • Learn about past missionaries, persecuted Christians, and martyrs throughout history from books, magazines, videos, and audio books. You can start with Jesus (of course!), the disciples, Saul/Paul, Polycarp, John Huss, and Martin Luther.
  • Pray for missionaries and persecuted Christians who are alive today. We have missionaries in East Asia, South Asia, and other places. Their work is often difficult. Make a list of their names, print off their pictures as reminders, and bless them as a family. Consult the World Mission office of our synod for assistance (414-256-3234 or bwm@wels.net). Children can be pen pals with mission children from a different country or in orphanages. The opportunities to serve others in your own community and abroad are many. Your family can help stuff meal bags or help pick out food for the hungry when you go grocery shopping. They can even share hope with a child whose parents are in prison.

4. Take a trip: Consider taking your family on a mission trip. Often when family vacations are planned, they are purposed to serve ourselves with entertainment and rest. There is nothing wrong with taking a family vacation. But consider how your family can grow closer to each other and closer to God when your vacation has a greater purpose than yourselves.

When I think back to family vacations, I remember a variety of bad attitudes that would creep up—entitlement, bickering over small issues, and discontentment. Serving others can cause little ones to see the needs of others as well as their own. What if we considered taking our time—yes, even our vacation time—and using it to serve others and our Lord?

5. Serve at home: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary! Look in your backyard, your community, or elsewhere in your state and discuss with your children ways that you can reach others with the gospel in words and action. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Often Christians are criticized when it comes to helping others in need because we’d rather send a check than get our hands dirty. But you can go out and be a testimony of Jesus’ love by how you treat others.

Who are the weak, poor, or neglected in your community? Is there an elderly neighbor who could use help with lawn care? Is there a population of homeless that can be intentionally served by your family? Are there any recent immigrants that could use a helping hand? Is there a women’s shelter in need of donations? Include your children! They may complain at first, but they will see how God can use not just their money but also their time to bless others.

Your home is an excellent place to welcome and serve others with hospitality. These opportunities can be big or small—invite a new guest at your church over for dinner, hold a Bible study, host an international student, allow a family member in need to live with you, plan a play date for the young families on your block, or (on a grander scale) have a block party for the neighbors. You’ll find out that they are just as weird and uniquely made as you. Food brings people together!

Let’s give others true food that never leaves them empty: “ ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ ” (John 6:33-35).

Jesus brings believers together eternally.

Amanda Rose and her husband, Frank, have four young children and live in Kingston, Wisconsin.

 This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog with “chatter that matters” for women of all ages.