The Secret to a Lighter Heart

An Anti-Resolution Worth Keeping

Sarah Woodard / 2.9.23

With January now over, some of us may already be wavering in our New Year’s resolutions and buckling under the weight of added, albeit often self-imposed, burdens. Or maybe you didn’t bother to think up resolutions this year at all, not wanting to come up short again like in years prior.

Or, maybe you’ve been more successful than I have in your resolve. Whatever the case, one of my anti-New Year’s resolutions is to approach the year — or perhaps more accurately said, my view of myself — with a lighter heart. (I’m calling it an anti-resolution because it is not a check-list item and it will make my life easier — lighter — rather than more challenging.) 

I adopted this anti-resolution after listening to Christian author Emily P. Freeman’s Next Right Thing podcast, one I often turn to when I need a quick encouraging word. Last fall, she did an episode called “One Secret to a Light(er) Heart,” opening the podcast with a story about author Brennan Manning, who began a talk he gave to inmates in prison with the rather outrageous greeting: “Well, it’s nice to see so many of you here!” Here, as in prison. Here, as in a place where no one finds it “nice” to be seen. Here, where you hope to see very few, not “so many.”

Brennan Manning writes about this experience in his book Souvenirs of Solitude:

Frequently not in form, on top or in control, that is part of my poverty as a human being. And self-acceptance without self-concern simply expresses a reality. An impoverished spirit prevents the poor man from being a tyrant to himself.

It appears that Manning’s blunder at the prison didn’t create an ugly cycle of embarrassment turning to shame that is often my default when I mess up. It doesn’t seem to have rattled him too much. In Freeman’s words,

I was struck by his lack of self-consciousness about it. There was no ringing of hands or heavy anxiety for having misspoken. There was no shock over his ill-timed comment … There was only an acceptance of the reality of his own frailty, accompanied by his refusal to hate himself for it.

Acknowledging our poverty as human beings allows us to accept ourselves — faults, ill-timed comments, embarrassing moments, “warts and all” — without hating ourselves. We can simultaneously recognize that we are wildly insufficient and loveable. If we expect ourselves to be perfect, and then fail in some way, the mistake feels catastrophic, devastating. But if we expect ourselves to fall, it’s much easier to dust ourselves off and get up again. A poor spirit makes room for grace. 

I want to have a lighter view of myself, not because I don’t take myself seriously, but because I know who I am. Who God says I am. As Freeman goes on to say, we don’t have to take ourselves more seriously than we should “precisely because we have done the work of taking ourselves deeply seriously, our stories, our woundedness, our belovedness. And so this is a lightheartedness that comes from finally knowing who we are in our deep down core and of being mostly profoundly okay with her.”

Knowing that God loves us while we are still sinners (Rom 5:8) and not despite our sin frees us to accept and love ourselves, too. Not in the trendy, popular “self love” way we hear about in the media, but in the deep down core God-intended way. In the self-acceptance without self-concern way. When we have a lighter view of ourselves, we aren’t so shocked and depressed by our shortcomings and limitations. We realize it’s an innate part of our imperfect humanity. A healthy understanding of our own impoverished spirits means, thank God, we don’t have to be the center of the universe anymore. It’s easier to celebrate others and let God have the throne.

As we enter into the new year, I believe Jesus is inviting me, and you, too, to live with a lighter heart. Lately, I have been praying Brennan Manning’s prayer for the impoverished spirit:

Jesus, my Brother and Lord, I pray as I write these words for the grace to be truly poor before You, to recognize and accept my weakness and humanness, to forego the indecent luxury of self-hatred, to celebrate Your mercy and trust in Your power when I’m at my weakest, to rely on Your love no matter what I may do, to seek no escapes from my innate poverty, to accept loneliness when it comes instead of seeking substitutes, to live peacefully without clarity or assurance, to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in my life fade away, to belong no more to myself, not to desert my post when I give the appearance of staying at it, to cling to my humanity, to accept the limitations and full responsibility of being a human being — really human and really poor in Christ our Lord.

So this year, while I have definitely set some goals for how I want to bring healthy change into my life, I will not be surprised or mortified when I fall short. And falling short one day doesn’t mean I can’t try the next. I can dust myself off and try again, knowing that God’s grace is new every morning, knowing that my frailty as a human being means it won’t be the last time I miss the mark. Laughing at myself rather than hating myself. The invitation I’ll gladly be accepting is to be more resolute in God’s love for me than my ability to faithfully follow through on any resolution.

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