Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2017! I’d like to start off by saying that many of us (myself included) will turn twenty this year, and that is the silliest thing I have ever heard. My number is gonna start with a two. Two is an adult number. You could do ridiculous things when you were nineteen and people would be like, “It’s fine, guys: his number starts with a one…you know, he’s still young, he makes mistakes, it’s okay.” But if you do ridiculous things now people are like, “Hey! Your number starts with a two now. You can’t be a doofus anymore. Time to shape up.” Scary, man.

Re-centering our focus, it’s 2017, and if you’re not back at school already, you’ll be heading there shortly. After breaks, we always return to school rejuvenated–at least, that’s the hope and intention. In our revitalization, we have the opportunity to make and adhere to new resolutions, more austere resolutions, that we may have failed to achieve later in the semester, browbeaten by the rigors of college life.

Of course, this return has the added brunt of the new year–the opportunity to demonstrate the tangible individual change from the person you were in 2016 to the person you will become in 2017. Some of you may have resolved to accomplish certain things; others may have foregone the opportunity. Regardless of which year it is, from where you are returning, and where you are heading, I want to give you some resolutions you can pursue, some reasons to pursue them, and how to get started. Here we go:

1. Read a book

I don’t know a better way to get smarter faster than by reading. The people who teach you things learned those things from a person who read a book, or they learned it from reading the book that someone wrote. Think about all the learning you do on an average day. The majority comes from reading articles or reading books for class or listening to someone speak on a topic they understand–they are well-read, as it were.

Eric Thomas is a pastor and motivational speaker who likes to say that “knowledge is the new money.” I don’t really know what this means, besides the fact that knowledge has value. The speakers you listen to might be limited to the people you know, but the books to which you have access–unfathomable depths of knowledge, man.

Concrete things to try:

  1. Ask your priest/spiritual father for a good spiritual book to read–and recommend to your OCF chapter president that the entire chapter read it together, occasionally meeting for discussion.
    1. No OCF chapter? Hit up a friend, show them this blog, and read with them.
      1. No friends? Oh, c’mon. Hit me up at
  2. Do you regularly watch Netflix before you go to sleep? While you eat meals? Replace your dead show time with a book for one week straight and see how you feel.
  3. Start small (less than 250/300 pages) and only commit small chunks of time per day (30 minutes).
  4. Find a topic in which you’re really interested
    1. A lot of comedians write hysterical books, fyi.

2. Read the Book

If you were fortunate enough to attend College Conference East, Fr. Bogdan Bucir gave an incredible talk about reading the Bible as Orthodox Christians. Daily scriptural reading supplements and informs our faith. It contextualizes many familiar prayers and hymns. It purifies our mind and infuses our day with life, especially when we do it in the morning.

It’s tough to fully experience the Church without attending divine services regularly, participating in the sacramental life, praying, fasting, and reading Scripture daily. Quite simply, daily Scripture reading is part of the prescription given to Orthodox Christians by the church fathers–when we neglect it, we neglect caring for the roots of our faith. It’s a dangerous proposition.

A lot of students don’t read the Bible every day–or, you know, ever. That’s okay. Don’t be like a lot of students. Be like Christ.

Concrete things to try:

  1. Download the DailyReadings app from the Play Store or App Store. It tells you the fasting prescriptions of the day, the saints and feasts of the day, and the daily Epistle and Gospel readings. Nice.
  2. Download a Bible app that either has the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New King James Version (NKSV). These are the two accepted translations of the Orthodox Church. This is the app I use (for Android). I can bookmark and favorite and stuff. Still nice.
  3. Check out the website My Bible Plans. It lets you create a custom Bible reading plan with which books you want to read, and over how many days you’d like to read those books. It gives you an iCal feed that you can easily hook up to your Google Calendar, or will send you an email every morning with your chapters for that day (in English Standard Version, so use your app from #2 to read the right version)
  4. Set a time every day to read the Bible. Don’t just add it to the to-do list. It’ll fall off as the world overwhelms you. My time is every morning, after I wake up. Chose a time and stick to it.

3. Smile

via flickr by jessicahtam

I still remember the talk my junior high received from a man whose teenage son had unexpectedly committed suicide. Incredibly heavy stuff. He told a story of a man who killed himself by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in his apartment, they found his suicide note, and it read: “I’m walking to the bridge today. If one person smiles at me on my way there, I will not jump.”

I hope the stakes of your smile aren’t that high. If so, that’s a lot of pressure, and I don’t do well smiling under pressure–I look terrible in pictures. But we forget blessings so much quicker than curses; bemoan struggles far before giving thanks. What a pleasure it is to be attending a university, to have unimaginable opportunity buzzing in through our every action, every moment cracking with the electricity that is our potential. I own cool sunglasses and bright red pants; I have amazing friends and a family that teases me as much as I do them; I watch football on Sundays and eat hot dogs sometimes; I believe in a merciful God and His ultimate sacrifice for my salvation.

How dare I be anything less than joyful?

P.S. Sometimes things stink. Yep. Smile anyway. It makes things better.

Concrete things to try:

  1. Watch this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, who (IS THE MAN!) works at Yale (I think?) studying happiness and positivity. Then, do literally everything he says
    1. tl;dr: take time, every night, and write three things for which you’re grateful. Describe them in detail; put them in a memo in your phone if you don’t have a journal.
  2. Pick a person every morning that’s valuable to you and find a way, that day, to adequately express to them why and how they’re valuable to you.
    1. Not always with words.
  3. Empathize with others. In every interaction, ask yourself what it’d be like to be in the other pair of shoes, and how you’d hope other people treated you.
    1. You’ll find yourself saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ roughly, I dunno, 7 bajillion times more than you do now.

4. Experiment

Image by © moodboard/Corbis via flickr

I honestly believe everyone should read, and read as much as they can, and a big part of that reading should be the Bible, and they should smile a lot more too. I think everyone can be reading more and smiling more than they currently are.

I can think of plenty more things that fall under this category, but you know you a lot better than I do. I’m gonna throw out a bunch of things that I think are awesome, and a few of those concrete tips that might help you out. You do you, and pick a good one.

  1. Pray daily for 30 days
    1. Scientifically, the prevailing belief is that it takes roughly seven weeks to fully ingrain a new habit. That’s 49 days. But just for 30 days, pray daily. See if it’s ingrained by then
      1. Set the alarm five minutes earlier and pray in bed if need be.
      2. Place an icon on your pillow every day, so you can’t lay your head down without hitting it
      3. Copy prayers from and put them in a note on your phone, so you don’t have to worry about a book
  2. “Swing that collection plate this way!”
    1. Beginning the habit of giving to the church now–yes, now, as a poor college student–empowers you to do it later. You might not have the monetary means to make a big impact now–because of the whole poor college student thing–but you may later.
      1. When going out to eat/for coffee, buy a cheaper option than you’d usually purchase, and donate the difference to the church
      2. Ask your priest about the ability to give online. Some church have those now #innovation
      3. When you come across something you really want to buy, but don’t need, and find yourself using the “it’s really not that much” rationalization, donate that money to the church.
  3. Find a service opportunity
    1. Yes, you, poor and busy college student. Begin building a habit now that you’d like to have later. If you ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be doing this in ten years?” and can answer ,”Yes,” start doing that thing today.
      1. There are student organizations on your campus that are built for charity. I’m almost positive. Find them and see how you can get involved.
      2. If the homeless are around your area, grab an extra fruit from the dining hall, make a sandwich, and have it in a Ziploc bag for when you’re walking around.
      3. Cough Real Break OCF Cough

Good luck to you, my friends. Comment below with your struggles or stories, and feel free to email with any cool or interesting results!

Happy New Year!