NOTE: Quickly abandoning New Year resolutions is as common a practice as making them in the first place. Here the author offers a perspective on why they deserve better – and how we can give them what they deserve.
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By Penny Wiegert
I did quite a lot of baking during the holiday season. I made several batches of bread and rolls using the recipe my grandmother used at her restaurant some 50 years ago.
The best bread gets a good amount of kneading. As any baker knows, bread dough is the opposite of pie and pastry dough. For bread, the more it is handled the better; for flaky pastry, the less handling the better it turns out.
Every time I make a batch of bread dough I remember my grandmother teaching me how to divide the dough, roll it out and manipulate it into crescents, butterflies, knots and cinnamon rolls. It took some practice to get them right, but the time spent was worth it.
As I punched, kneaded and shaped the dough into various forms, I reflected on why I like the art of bread making. It is probably the same reason I like clay that makes pottery and sculpture.
The baker's edge
You see, if you happen to twist the dough into a knot or roll it out too thin or thick, you can start over.
When you work with clay and it spins into a something other than your vision for it -- whether it’s a pot, vase or bowl -- you can squish it down, add some water and begin again.
And once you have molded your clay into a form, smoothing and sculpting the lines that bring life to your vision, or when you put a buttery glisten on freshly baked, perfectly shaped loaves of bread or rolls, the sense of accomplishment is particularly satisfying.
It’s almost ironic that I enjoy baking bread because it takes patience and normally my supply is low. If you try to rush the yeast process you might get some bread but you certainly won’t be pleased or enjoy much sense of satisfaction.
A lasting lesson
It seems to me that beginning a new year has a lot in common with baking and sculpting.
In order to make good bread or some beautiful pottery, you have to start with the right ingredients. A new year’s resolution needs that too.
You have to have the will and the tools to make the resolutions stick. You have to make sure you give yourself time to accomplish what’s needed -- and you need plenty of patience because change and transformation can’t be rushed.
And if you make a mistake, you can still end up with something beautiful or tasty if you are willing to begin again and not abandon your endeavor altogether.
Better than easy
Too many times you hear people say they are going to lose weight, stop smoking, be kinder, or save more money. And the minute someone passes around the cookie tray, invites you outside for a smoke, cuts you off in traffic or wants to splurge at the mall, the resolutions are abandoned and we get comfortable in our old patterns because it’s just much easier.
Instead, treat that resolution like you would a piece of dough or clay. Punch it back down and start again.
As long as the basic ingredients are there, you can create something positive for yourself. And give yourself a little time. We are too conditioned for immediate gratification these days with our instant messages, drive-up windows and same-day deliveries.
Some things still take time. Ask an expectant mom!
Faith can help us practice these virtues of patience and transformation. As Catholics, we have more than a few opportunities to resolve to be better persons, get closer to Christ or to do more for others. Whether it’s a new year, a Lent or Advent promise -- or simply getting to confession -- we can always cooperate with God’s grace to make ourselves better.
You would think with all this opportunity, we all would be perfect. But we all know we fail.
That’s why faith gives us the opportunity for mercy. Rather than lose hope and fall into despair at our failed attempts, we can stop the rise of faults and failings and slap them down like the dough rising in the bowl and start over to make something wonderful of our souls.
Perfect need not apply
As our new year starts to unfold, perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves that our churches weren’t built for perfect people.
We come together as a community of believers to publicly proclaim that we want to make the best of what God gave us and that we are constantly trying … together. And perhaps maybe we all just need to remember that what our lives of faith and our resolutions need is a little more time and kneading.
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About the author: Penny Wiegert is editor of The Observer, official newspaper of the Rockford (IL) Diocese, and former president of the Catholic Press Assn. of the U.S. and Canada. Her column is reprinted here with permission.