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A Spiritual Assist for Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep. So in the past I did not bother at all. This year, is different, I’m all in. But I’m relying on the do-over.

The idea of a do-over is at once so enticing and completely ridiculous. If only it were possible, there are so many things in my own life I would change, like that W that I shaved at the back of my hairline in the 1980s or the bright green shag rug I chose for my childhood bedroom. But, sadly, those days are long gone, and, wish as I might, I am stuck without the ability to do it over.

Yet Judaism offers us a model of spirituality in which the do-over is front and center.

Traditionally, upon waking, Jews are meant to recite the Modeh Ani prayer, the core of which says that “I am grateful before You, God, that in Your compassion You have returned to me my soul.”

From most of my life I have seen this prayer as one of general gratitude, setting a mindset for the day ahead. But this year I attended the Atlanta Jewish Family & Career Services luncheon, and my whole approach to this prayer shifted.

One of the main speakers at the luncheon was Eric Miller, the program director of HAMSA, a program for those in recovery. He spoke of being clean for nearly eight years, but talked not of the years as a whole but the cumulative daily count. Each day sober and clean being its own accomplishment. The possibility of falling off the path is not a distant one, he reminded us, but close at hand — it could come today, it could come tomorrow.

Listening to him, I heard the words of the Modeh Ani in a new light. The Torah relates that in the beginning, God blew into the first being nishmat chayim. That phrase, often translated as the breath of life, can also be understood as the soul. It is a variation of neshama, which we are grateful to God for returning to us. While we cannot go back and do over the past, each day the divine source breathes our neshama into us and miraculously allows us to begin anew.

In this past year, I have embarked on a new approach to living more healthfully. This is no easy task. While I have found ways to make it work for me, some days are more faithful to my new vision than others.

Changing who I am is an ongoing process. There are days — sometimes several in a row — that don’t go as planned. So I am grateful for the renewed chance each day to try again.

So this January, like many of us, as part of my general commitments, I made resolutions. Mine are for healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness. Research shows that keeping resolutions is hard to do. Most of us will hit roadblocks and abandon the whole plan. I’m optimistic nonetheless, because I’ve embraced the do-over.

Fundamentally, Judaism believes in teshuvah, the ability to turn around our lives and make different choices. But it is not a simple process, it is one that takes daily commitment and recommitment and will likely also involve mistakes.

How precious then, the daily opportunity for the do-over.

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