It’s the start of a new year, and it is the time when we make all those wonderful resolutions, well-meant but seldom well-kept.

It was the Babylonians of 4,000 years ago who had the notion that a new year ought to be a time for personal renewal and self-improvement. Their new year was in the spring. We have the Romans to thank for setting the calendar with which we are familiar. They named the first month after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward.

And that is what we all tend to do at this time of year. The news shows have been full of lists of the 10 best movies, or the most important people of the year, or the most significant photographs, and, of course, the most important stories of the year.

What will last year mean for this year? We send each other wishes for the new year, hopes that all will be healthy and happy, and that the world will be a more peaceful place.

I imagine those thoughts were with the Babylonians as well, if in a bit different form. They weren’t worried about spending too much time on the Internet, for instance, but some things, such as repaying debts or returning what we have borrowed or treating people better, go beyond time and place.

So what do we think of when we contemplate New Year’s resolutions? According to a survey a few years ago by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, the top 11 resolutions were:

1. Get a better job — I’m not sure if this means more lucrative or more meaningful; I suppose it could be either

2. Be a better person — I find this one especially interesting. How do we do that? Perhaps we should continue with the list and see if it draws any conclusions for us.

3. Lose weight — The “Today” show claims this is, in fact, the No. 1 resolution among Americans.

4. Stop smoking — That’s always a good choice, but probably one of the hardest to stick to.

5. Spend less money — In this culture of plastic cards (credit, debit, special store cards), it can be very easy to forget that actual money is being spent!

6. Exercise more — That’s on my list every year. Ahem.

7. Improve health — Many of the others on this list could have this effect.

8. Get closer to God — Ah, at last! The inner life, with all its implications for the outer.

Well, there are more to get to 11. (9. Stop drinking; 10. Go back to school; 11. Be kinder to others.)

But I’m interested in how far down the list we find God. I’m interested in how true it is for me when I answer questions about my personal goals.

Oh, I’m very clear about God’s place in my vocational life! In a search for a new call as pastor, I made every effort to listen for God’s guidance. But in my personal life, I’m a mom and a newly single woman and an overgrown girl with romantic notions and a daughter whose parents are long gone on to their reward and an erstwhile princess and a wannabe Queen of the Universe with a desire to set everything to rights.

So it’s on my mind, as I round the corner to turning 50 this year and take back the name my parents gave me long ago and ponder whether there will be another dog in my future. What will be my highest priority? Will I get God up higher than No. 8 on my list?

I’m going to try, and to do it, I will focus on two words: Pray. First.

That can be as small a gesture as turning off the iPhone alarm and praying before checking my darn e-mail in the early dark of morning. It can be as routine a practice as praying before I start the car. It can be as deep a commitment as closing my eyes and opening my heart and mind before an important conversation or a worrisome meeting. It can be unformed as a period of meditation or formulaic as the blessing before a meal or impulsive as a whispered, “Thank you!” or “Help?!?!!”

Pray First.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


The Rev. Martha Spong is the pastor of North Yarmouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.