I love the new year. I love putting up a fresh calendar with new family photos on it. When writing in the important things like birthdays, I take my time. It is the only time my penmanship is just perfect. I take great pleasure in putting away the old one in a drawer so I can find it later when a date is needed. It is satisfying to have new beginnings and nice endings.
As the new year begins I sit down and evaluate what I did wrong during the year that just closed and start a list on how to correct those things in the year to come. My list has a few names like "New Year's Resolutions" or "Goals" but it doesn't matter what the name is, in two months it will all be forgotten. This is probably the case at your house too. I have heard it said that the most read book of scripture is 1 Nephi during the month of January and it is a fact that gym membership is up in January. By February the alarm is pushed back to 6am because it is just too crowded or too cold to exercise and the Scriptures have a nice layer of dust on them. Like you, my tennis shoes and scriptures get the best workout in January.
I have noticed over the years that the same few goals appear on my list not because I have mastered them, far from it, but because I fall short again and again. They aren't huge things like "lose 30 pounds" or "run a marathon", but small things like daily personal prayer, personal scripture reading and speaking kindly to family members. I have struggled with these my entire life. In fact I am doing the hard things this coming year. I have lost a lot of weight and will be running a half marathon, but I still struggle with those small things. How do I accomplish the small things?
The Lord said, "And out of small things proceedeth that which is great." (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33). I know what great things will come out of my daily prayer and scripture reading. I see it work in my family's life as we are diligent in taking care of those small things. So how do make it a habit? How do I make it all the way into February and ultimately into December doing the small things? How do I make it a habit so that it will make my home a better place to be?
Let me propose a new parable based somewhat on "The Sower" called "The Gardener". I can't take all the credit for it as our stake president presented something similar in a recent stake conference, but I have added my own words to the notes I took.
We had a plot of land to do with what we will. We left it alone and up shot some weeds. Some are ugly, some are annoying and some are actually quite attractive. But we are good gardeners and we must remove the weeds. The easiest way is to just mow them. They are gone! Our plot looks almost new again. But in a few weeks the weeds are back.
We can't have the neighbors see our weeds so we try a second method and grab them and pull on them. Some break off and with others we are lucky and get the roots. The plot of land looks good. Again some of them grow back but now more pop up with the old. They must have blown in from the neighbor's plot of weeds.
We are now being talked about in the neighborhood so we decided we have had enough and we dig down and make sure we get all the roots. Oh, the plot of land looks wonderful now. No weeds and a nice piece of dirt, but in a few months the weeds are back. Some of the old ones are back but it looks like a new variety has sprung up in the freshly tilled ground.
We make one last attempt to fix our plot of land. This time we dig deep and remove all the roots just as before only this time instead of leaving the ground bare just waiting for the next wind to blow weed seeds onto our beautiful plot of land we plant flowers, fruits and vegetables. This time when weeks even months have passed we notice that the weeds are gone and we have a lovely plot of land. If a weed does appear, like they always do, they are but a small lonely one and easily removed from the plot.
With constant daily attention this plot of land will continue to produce beautiful flowers, luscious fruits and delicious vegetables. It won't take a lot of work, but it will take daily watching and tending to keep the plot of land productive.
Our lives are like the plot of land. Sin and bad habits like the weeds will appear, we are natural men after all (Mosiah 3:19), but how we remove them is up to us. We all want our sins and bad habits removed, we don't want others to see them or talk about them. It looks great when we they are gone. Our lives run smoother. Our lives are in tune with the Spirit. But if we do not replace the sins and bad habits with something else, they will come back, just like our bare plot of land.
I have read study after study on replacing bad habits. Everyone says that the best way to do it is to replace the bad habit with a good one. The chore will be daunting as I have so many things I would like to replace. Our stake president suggested that we just change one thing by replacing it with something productive and good. Just one at a time. I need to concentrate on one thing at a time.
It has been said that it only takes 28 days to form a new habit. I can only imagine how many bad habits I can replace this coming year with a good one. If I did my math right that is 13 bad habits that I can replace this year with something positive, good and worthwhile.
As I make my list this year, both personal and homeschooling, instead of a list of things I am going to do to be better, I'm going to write down a sin or bad habit I want to remove and find something that I can replace it with. Instead of a 30 minute TV show that will do little for my spiritual health, I'm replacing it with 30 minutes scripture reading. When I get hungry I'm not reaching for the candy dish but a drink of water and a 10 minute walk around the block. Instead of harsh words said to an errant child, I'm going to replace it with "I love you so much I'm going to take a walk so I can be calm when we talk." There are my first three habit changes; only ten more to come up with.
These small things will help my plot of land grow beautiful flowers. Now I'm closing the book on 2009 and opening my brand new calendar with a list of things that I can and will do. Two thousand and ten is going to be a "great" year because of all the "small things" I'm going to do.