Admit it or not, we still make resolutions – New Year’s resolutions, if you will – because the beginning of a new year seems an especially good time to start one. No one knows exactly when the tradition began, but everyone agrees that it goes back a long time.
Originally resolutions tended to have a religious association. The Wikipedia web page on New Year’s resolutions carries an illustration of the kind of card sent out a century ago–by Bishop John H. Vincent, otherwise unidentified–with his own resolution: “I will this day try to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a child-like trust in God.” That sure covered a lot of ground, and if the bishop was able to live up to it all, more power to him.
Resolutions these days tend to be more self-centered: improving health, losing weight, drinking less and doing away with smoking altogether. All well and good, of course; worthwhile goals, every one of them. But they’re still inner-directed. Something even purer–the better path, as scripture puts it–would help someone else. But “volunteering to help others” usually ends up toward the bottom of the list of popular New Year’s goals.
Some people go ahead and do it anyway. Three who did are the missionaries in downtown Baltimore who run the Grace and Hope Mission, a nondenominational charity that provides those who are down and out with that most basic of needs: a free meal. The people who keep the Grace and Hope Mission going strong are Helen Meewes, the superintendent, Karen Harp, and Gunhild Carlson. Their clients call them “Sister,” but they’re not nuns in the formal sense. Still, the three wear habits of a sort, and as celibates, forego traditional family life.
Jacques Kelly wrote about them in a feature in The Baltimore Sun, where I first read their story. Kelly noted that the Grace and Hope Mission has been around since 1914, nearly 100 years. He didn’t say if a New Year’s resolution was involved in getting the whole project under way, but when you read that the mission founders–three of them–had a combined total of $4 in their pockets to get things going, you’ve got to figure that a firm sense of resolve played a key part. Now as then, the staff supplements a hot meal with a brief religious service and, when a donation comes in, clothing as well. Speaking of donations, the missionaries used to hope that passersby would contribute to the cause. Now they rely on checks from their friends–and somehow it works out.
“No homeless person should go hungry,” said Helen Meewes. “The Lord provides.”
Those truly interested in improving themselves know there’s no better way to do that than by lending a hand to others. It doesn’t have to be a full-time effort like the Baltimore mission, either. Soup kitchens can always use servers, and food pantries are grateful for what they get. Heaven knows there are countless ways to help others, and you’ll probably come up with one that’s just right for you. And come to think of it, that would be a great resolution to make–on New Year’s Day, sometime during January, or any time at all.