I’m always amazed (and also amused) by the number of people who make new year’s resolutions. More so when Christians make them, because it really doesn’t seem to make sense from the Christian understanding of our own will power that we could actually see them through.
I have no problem with a secular culture making such resolutions, especially one like ours which is so governed by the intellect and the (wrong) belief that we can think our way into improving ourselves. This is an expression of the religion of the irreligious who still have that innate need to reflect, confess, repent and be made new again.
But just because we resolve to do something and make a pseudo-pronouncement on the 1st January doesn’t mean we are any more or less likely to see it through.
I’ve been there! My gym membership card from 2003 still sits there in the same place gathering dust after I resolved to go to the gym 3 times a week to get fit, like when I was 18. I think I managed to go the whole of January, but then the cold and wet – oh and the darkness – got in the way, and well you know how it is…
I find it interesting that Lent this year starts as early as February 13th and is a time when the Church has traditionally entered into a 40-day period of personal reflection, confession and repentance. Perhaps whoever was putting the Christian calendar together had insight into the fact that it will probably only take 6 weeks before our new year’s resolutions fail and we find ourselves repenting again!
(The geeks amongst you will know that the Church calendar actually starts at the beginning of Advent, not 1st January)
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament, and especially Paul’s letters, leads us to the conclusion that we simply don’t have the strength of will to make such determinations and then actually see them through.
Paul sums up much of this when he says,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
(Romans 7:18-19 ESV)
Paul is not alone. In fact he is perhaps better positioned than any of us to actually do what is right. As a “Pharisee of Pharisees” Paul’s life was about rule, discipline, focus and determination. And yet here he’s making it plain: he just can’t do it.
So what should we make of this?
Is it wrong to make a new year’s resolution? No, but it’s not a guarantee of anything either and certainly not a good plan to effect actual change.
Is it right to see what isn’t right in our lives and want to change it? Yes, of course it is, and you don’t need to get ‘super spiritual’ to see it.
A friend of mine told me that he’d decided his new year’s resolution was going to be to lose weight and so he ate as much as possible over Christmas and right up until 31st December before the new regime kicked in!
Losing weight will be a good move for my friend for a number of reasons, most of which are physiological, but his approach points to another area which could do with some help as well. The truth is that he and I both know that his resolution isn’t worth the paper it (isn’t) written on. We even joked about it, and he’s not deluded about that part, so why is he still using this idea of a resolution to try and provide the impetus or trigger to make something happen? A Tuesday in any given year is totally neutral and inert when it comes to affecting our behaviour as a lifestyle change. My friend knows it, I know it and Paul knows it.
So what should we do?
If we really want to change our behaviour then we have to understand our habits. Knowing why we do what we do is the key to understanding how to change what we do. But we don’t need to enter into any kind of psychoanalysis or cognitive behavioural therapy to change many of the things in our lives we might want to change.
We can simply start good habits and stop bad ones. This requires practise, not ‘overnight success’, or ‘lose 200lbs in just 4 days!’, and we have to confront the truth that more often than not we can’t do this on our own.
We need some kind of motivation and support to make these changes.
The basic idea of following Jesus is not to match his footsteps but to mimic him. Mimicking Jesus includes being entirely yourself and not trying to be someone you’re not and at the same time includes patterns of behaving and relating which are good for all of us.
If we look to Jesus and read in the gospels about his life amongst us, his encounters and exchanges, his passion and compassion, his righteousness and peace etc. then we have in him the perfect life coach or personal trainer or spiritual director or whatever it is you think you need to give you that support.
More than that, we have the body of Christ, the Church. Fellowship with other followers of Jesus who are also trying to figure things out, change their behaviour from bad to good, increase in compassion and mercy, worshipping together to put God before all other things etc. is the best ‘club’ we could join to actually help us achieve effective change. Better than a gym or Weightwatchers or counselling.
The Church exists to provide that fellowship for us. It is a safe place for reflecting, confessing, repenting and being renewed (or at least it should be!).
It is within the body of Christ that we can come close to the Master through each other and as the Holy Spirit dwells within and amongst us to bring truth and love.
Jesus has shown us in his death and resurrection that he has the power and the will to effect what he resolves to do. He offers us that same power because he intends that we live the same life.
So if you’re going to make a new year’s resolution this year then make it this one from Paul and a second one from the letter to the Hebrews:
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV) (emphasis mine)
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
(Hebrews 10:25 NIV) (emphasis mine)
Happy new – unresolved – year!