New Year’s resolutions for theology students

It’s hard to believe, but 2016 is here! As a new year is upon us, many of us are making plans to better ourselves. Maybe you hope to be kinder, more conscientious, or less quick to judge. Perhaps you’re resolving to lose a little weight. Or you could be setting a goal for trying something new.

For theology students, live can be exceedingly busy. It can be tough to make a resolution that is attainable and compatible with your lifestyle. I’ve come up with a few suggestions that I hope will inspire you to find a goal that works for you.

1: Read for pleasure. Those of us who are working toward our degrees in theology are frequently avid readers. The problem is that we tend to do so much reading for school that it can be hard to pick up a book just for fun at the end of a long day.

I have stacks upon stacks of books that I just never seem to get around to reading. I’ve found it helps to set a loose, realistic benchmark to keep me moving. I try to read one book for my own enjoyment every month. It’s typically only after I pick up a book that I’ve chosen for myself that I remember just how much I love reading for myself, and no one else. That’s why this is my personal resolution for 2016.

2: Develop a spiritual practice and keep at it. This is one that I think a lot of theology students know would be helpful, in theory. The problem is, many of us just don’t get around to it. It can feel difficult to find the time—or if we do start, sometimes we fall off in our practice. Doing something simple on a regular basis, like five minutes of daily prayerful meditation or keeping a journal, can ground the day and add a richness to an otherwise hectic schedule.

3: Strengthen your support network. During my summer as a student chaplain, I repeatedly heard the phrase “non-anxious and non-judgmental.” Friends and family can be irreplaceable pillars of support while you’re studying theology, but sometimes, they just can’t provide the kind of listening presence you need. If you’re going through a lot of stress and need to process it, another outlet can be a much-needed pressure valve.

An interfaith social group of students or clergy offers a sounding board of people who have probably experienced just what you are going through. A spiritual advisor or therapist is a healthy choice when you feel like you’re so busy supporting others that you’ve neglected your own spiritual well being. Each person is different, but we all can benefit from a space where we don’t feel like we need to be “on” all the time.

4: Give your time. Theology students typically don’t have much money. We usually don’t have a lot of time, either, but most of us can find an afternoon a month to give to a worthy cause. Volunteering at church or at an organization in your community can reinvigorate your life and add some extra depth and meaning when things get too hectic or focused on the superficial. Setting a goal of volunteering a certain amount of time every month can make this goal easy to track and manage.

5: Create a budget. Financial wellness is important for everyone, but especially for those of us whose finances are tighter than usual. School often puts a strain on the bank account, so it’s critical to keep it in the best shape it can be. Start by writing down all your outgoing expenses for “needs” and “wants.” See how they stack up against the money you have coming in, whether it’s through loans, work, or grants and scholarships. Plenty of tools are available online to help you get started. Your school’s financial aid office will likely have resources, too.

6: Learn a new skill. Just because we’re not kids anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still sign up to learn a musical instrument, sport, or language. Acquiring a new skill is not only good for the brain—it’s enjoyable, too. Be bold and take on something you’ve always wanted to try. Devoting a time slot every week to practicing or going to a class or lesson can keep you motivated.

The New Year brings new possibilities and a chance to take on something different and exciting. Keeping your resolution realistic and measurable will increase your chance of sticking with it. And if you fall away from your resolution, as most of us do at one point or another, don’t feel bad—just get right back to it. I wish you all the blessings that 2016 has to offer. Happy New Year!