It is no secret that New Year’s resolutions are often broken before the year’s (if not January’s) end. Our plans for self-improvement are crushed under the pressures of everyday life, leaving the new year, once full of hope and the promise of change, seeming like just another year. In our quest for improvement, we often forget to ground ourselves in who we really are and, most importantly, in whose we are.As the new year approaches, I often see this quote from Emily McDowell floating around social media:
“Finding yourself” is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right here, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.
Our New Year’s resolutions might, indeed, come from the desire to be our authentic selves. What McDowell’s idea is missing, however, is that who we were before the world imposed itself on us is who we were back in the beginning not just of our own life but of all life. Who we truly are is deeply rooted in whose we are and, therefore, in whom we are made to image.“Genesis” means the origin of something. The best place to start seeking the truth about something, then, is in its genesis. Ours began (figuratively) in a garden with a man and a woman, made in the image and likeness of their loving Creator. For all of us who have since followed, our identities are likewise grounded in and reflective of the One who made us.
Our identities are grounded in and reflective of the One who made us.
What happened in this beginning is that God’s image and likeness within us became “‘obscured’ and in a sense ‘diminished,’” but not destroyed (Mulieris Dignitatem 9). When we approach resolutions from a spiritual perspective, we are usually striving to overcome this obscurity, which is caused by sin. St. John Paul II reminds us that resurrecting the image of God within us from its fallen, diminished state requires grounding ourselves in the image we are meant to reflect: “If man is the image and likeness of God by his very nature as a person, then his greatness and his dignity are achieved in the covenant with God, in union with him, in striving towards that fundamental unity which belongs to the internal ‘logic’ of the very mystery of creation” (Mulieris Dignitatem 9).
Only in an authentic relationship with God can we shed the lies, conditioning, and external versions of ourselves in order to become who we were created to be. So long as we continue to focus on the external, we diminish ourselves through succumbing to outside expectations.
Emily McDowell’s reflection is in agreement with St. John Paul II in saying that our true self is not lost but, rather, buried. We must work through the layers of cultural, societal, and familial conditioning and expectations. We must question the voices that teach us to be, look, and act a certain way. We must dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Who does God want me to be? What does it mean for me to be the woman made in his image and likeness?” Answering these questions requires reflection, self-examination, and prayer so that we can discern what obscures God’s image in our lives.
When we do this work and come to better understand the depth of God’s love, we can begin reflecting it back to the world. Pope Francis writes in Christus Vivit, “To respond to our vocation, we need to foster and develop all that we are. This has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has everything to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit” (257).
When we understand the depth of God’s love, we can begin reflecting it back to the world.
Who you are and what you are called to do should “inspire you to bring out the best in yourself for the glory of God and the good of others. It is not simply a matter of doing things, but of doing them with meaning and direction” (Christus Vivit 257).
Who we are and what we are meant to do is already present in the very fiber of our being. It is our task to find them and then to develop them. Resolutions to pray and fast more, to do service work, and to frequent Confession and Adoration can only be transformative if we have this goal in mind. They cannot simply be a to do list; our New Year’s resolutions need to push us to cultivate our relationship with God so that it pours out into the world and bears fruit.
Who we are and what we are meant to do is already present in the very fiber of our being.