Considering all we have been through over the last 12 months, I have come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions are, at best, aspirational or, at worst, futile. Perhaps you thought, on December 31, 2019, that this next year was the year you would get a gym membership and exercise more consistently but after 80 days all the fitness clubs closed, and you were left a little less resolute. Or perhaps you thought you would adjust that unhealthy lifestyle and [fill in the blank] less, only to discover that it was all you had to do during the quarantine. It is painfully apparent that there is no certainty to the future.
Yet, our human nature, or perhaps our spark of divinity imbued through the Imago Dei, longs for our improvement. Therefore, the Apostle Peter writes the following to the Church:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 2 Peter 1:5-7
Whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or in the center of God’s will (N.B.: these two places are not mutually exclusive), there are areas of our lives where we could be doing better. Honestly, I have learned a great deal about myself in the months of quarantine, and I recognize that there are things I desire to improve. I suppose January 1st is just as good a day to begin as any other.
Above all else, I desire this year to increase my perseverance, which Merriam-Webster defines as, “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”. I long to be more patient, more forbearing, more tenacious. My trouble is that perseverance is not something that a gym or a grocery store can supply. Perseverance comes through faith in the promises and providence of God over the long haul. It means, for me, delighting in the delays as part of God’s design and rejoicing in the roadblocks as they work toward my refinement. For me, I will know that I am developing perseverance when I no longer experience opposition with annoyance but with amazement.
But that is my struggle. Your struggle is likely different. Why not make an effort this year to work on what is weighing you down? If you need accountability, I am available to provide an occasional prod. If you need prayer, feel free to reach out and we can bring these concerns to God together. If you need motivation for change, simply replay the past year in your mind and marvel at how much you have adapted, adjusted, and altered because of this disease; is not your health as important? You have shown yourself to be resilient. Let the changes you make this year be on your terms. Let me encourage you to read the Bible a bit more this year, attend worship a bit more this year, practice kindness a bit more this year, and marvel at God’s goodness a bit more this year. Clearly, COVID cannot constrict the construction of your Christ-like character; become what you believe you are this year.
It seems hard to believe that “Y2K” was twenty years ago. Do you remember all the troubles that were anticipated, all because experts were not sure if computers, which were programmed with a two-digit place setting for the year, would operate as normal when they registered 2000 or crash when they reverted to 1900? We were filled with anxiety as we waited to see if the utilities would continue to operate and banking software would still be running after the ball dropped. As it turned out, we worried for nothing: the world was unphased by the change in millennium as all the electronic components of 21st century life performed as required.
Much has happened over the past ten years for my family as well. We enjoyed 4 graduations, we celebrated a number of big birthdays (including both Jeanine and I turning 50 in the 2010s), we moved residences three times, and we travelled more than a hundred thousand miles. If I can be honest, I have worried about a great deal of things over the past ten years – will the kids finish High School, be accepted into a college of their choice and come home on occasion? Will we be able to find a suitable residence for our family’s needs? Will the days ahead be kind? I thank God that the previous decades have been filled with great blessing.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)
I have been joking with my wife and children that the Mike of 2020 is “easy, breezy” (which my youngest now has co-opted as “Covergirl Dad”), but my resolution is serious – I am consciously trying to release my inner anxiety about the things that I cannot control and release the reins on the things that I can control; thus, I will be easy and breezy. This desire to be more relaxed has made me inventory the things that I control, which turns out to be a surprisingly short list: I control my decisions, my reactions and my responses.
This year, and decade, I will make a concerted effort to make and maintain wise decisions, and not regularly revisiting the angst inherent in the process. I will try to express genuine reactions which are filled with grace and edification. I will offer thoughtful and profitable responses, refusing to delve into the bad habit of pessimism. I will not worry about whether I made the right decision, the appropriate reaction or the proper response. I will ‘go with the flow”. And in order to do this, I will seek the Spirit’s leading each new day and trust His transforming power at work within me.
If I hope to cease in my worrying, if I am dedicated to an easy, breezy disposition, I will need to place all my angst and anxiety somewhere. So I am claiming 1 Peter 5:7 as my memory verse for 2020:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
The observance of New Year’s Day (I suppose like so many other observances) is both arbitrary and random. The fact that we record dates with January as the first month, instead of May or August, and December as the last is illogical. There is no magical or material difference between 11:59PM on New Year’s Eve and 12:00AM on New Year’s Day. Nothing truly changes when the ball drops in Times Square. As my children would say, celebrating the new year on January 1 is just a ‘social construct’, and the ‘new year’ is just a structure that shapes our culture and maintains a standard for our practices.
That being said, we do measure our days by the calendar. We do, collectively, think about the day when one year is ending and another year is beginning. We do make resolutions to think or eat or behave differently because the year is new. There will be year-end reviews, year-end memorials, year-end sales and year-end parties. I suppose that we do need to change the calendars at some time, so why not December 31st? It is a good practice to take stock of our lives at some point and say, “Out with the old, in with the new”; it is a good time to make resolutions.
On the subject of resolutions, these were the top 10 of 2017, according to Harper’s Bazaar:
- Diet, exercise and weight loss.
- Read more.
- Learn something new.
- Save money.
- Be nicer, kinder and more patient.
- Get a new job.
- Volunteer and donate more to charity.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Get more sleep and relax more.
- Make new friends and be a better friend.
I could certainly benefit from some, if not most, of these. I have scrutinized this list and begun to formulate a plan to live a healthier, fuller and richer life. I will, however, likely give up when my birthday comes around (which is in a little less than three weeks). This is all because New Year’s Day is not as magical or mystical as we think. What I need is January 2nd resolutions, January 3rd resolutions, and every day resolutions. I must maintain a discipline of thinking every day about living a healthier, fuller and richer life. I also need those around me to ask about my resolutions (or commitments to discipline) regularly throughout the year.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Romans 14:5
I am going to keep this list (excepting a few that are not pertinent to my lifestyle) near me for the next few months, as a reminder of how I want to improve my health and wellness. I am going to resolve, as a contract between myself and my creator, to cultivate the physical, mental, social and emotional blessings He’s given me. I am going to attempt to do this every day, not just on the special days that this type of talk is fashionable. And I will pray with you that you reach whatever goals you and God have set for your life as well. Happy New Year.
A few days before Christmas, my daughter’s journey toward college acceptance reminded me that we can never overestimate God’s love for us. She had applied ‘early decision’ to American University in Washington, DC and waited, with not a small bit of trepidation, for a response they promised to deliver before December 30th. Because she applied ‘early decision’ her acceptance, including a financial aid package, would be binding. Each day she waited her concerns increased and her confidence decreased. Finally, the letter arrived from the office of enrollment. Her fears evaporated and her heart soared. She has been accepted into the AU class of 2020 with a more-than-expected aid package, making her dream a reality.
God answered Rebekah’s, and her parents’, prayers in abundance. This chain of events made me ask two questions. First, do I expect too little from God? I may be guilty of not asking God for all that I need and therefore not enabling Him to grant all that He desires for me. Secondly, do I expect too much of myself? I may also be guilty of relying upon my own abilities and resources to accomplish what only God can do. The unfortunate byproduct of these practices is that I tend to spend too much time in worry and too little time in prayer.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10 (NIV)
As the new year begins, my wish for 2016– not so much a resolution as an intention – is that I seek God’s promises and surrender my own plans. I intend to pray more and fret less. I intend to ‘test God’ by giving to Him the obedience He deserves and receiving from Him more than I could ask or imagine. I intend to expect more from God and less from myself. And I intend to trust God completely, making my needs and desires known to Him in prayer and allowing Him to determine the answers. I intend to remember that God cares about me, gave His greatest for me and will make all things work for the good of those who love Him.
Can you imagine what would happen if we all gave God the next 366 days? What could be accomplished if we were to seek His guidance and follow leading – working hard in the places He’s called and commissioned us to serve, resting fully during the times He’s appointed for us to find restoration and giving generously to those He’s placing in our lives? I see no better way to live out the next cycle around the sun than to pray for God’s greatest blessings and to anticipate that He will answer these intercessions in the best manner possible.
What about you? What are your intentions for the new year?
Throughout the month of December, I had been studying Christmas Carols as a basis for our Advent messages and noticed something peculiar. Two of these carols (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”) were written and scored in a matter of hours and were expected to be played only once. Despite the writers’ intentions, a confluence of events worked in such a way that enabled these carols to become part of the culture. A simple song written for a Sunday school service and a carol played because the organ was broken have both become beloved strains for the Advent season.
This has made me wonder, especially as one year concludes and another commences, whether the same sort of thing happens in ordinary lives like ours. Do our lives have an impact because of the big plans which we pursue and into which we invest significant energies? We would all say that most of our greatest works are caused by our major efforts. However, there are also times when, like the carols previously mentioned, our secondary or tangential efforts have an unforeseen and unpredicted positive impact. Our influence upon those around us is shaped by big and small acts of obedience.
As we enter a new year and put up a new calendar, perhaps we could contemplate what we are doing, in big and small ways, to impact the world. Certainly we should exert our greatest efforts in accomplishing our greatest tasks, such as activities that advance our vocations, our families, and our health. But we should also remember that some of our ‘throw-away’ interactions may be more significant, in the long run, than our primary efforts. There is no way of evaluating the impact of simple and ‘thoughtless’ acts: smiling as we pass a stranger on the sidewalk, sitting to play a card game with your child, tipping the haggard wait-staff a bit more than their service deserved or writing a poem that few will ever read.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5
This year, I am resolving to show gentleness to all. Gentleness is an interesting biblical concept which carries with it an inference of ‘power under control’. If we wash clothes with the gentle cycle, we know that the full force of the machine is still available but the agitation is restrained. If we rock a child gently, we still have full musculature to sway to and fro but the motion is restrained. This year I am resolved to the following: speaking gently – may my words carry the full power of the truth but their expression show restraint; leading gently – may my interactions with my family (the one at home and the one at church) carry the full power of my authority but their expression show restraint; and serving gently – may my efforts in accomplishing all that God has equipped me to perform carry the full power of my strength but their expressions show restraint.
I pray that each one of us has a blessed and significant new year…through both the big and small interactions that God enables us to enjoy.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
My family and I had the opportunity to travel a bit this week and visit two families we dearly love: my wife’s longest friend and her husband and my wife’s brother and sister-in-law. While the two visits were different (one was to see their new home and the other was to visit during a time of illness), both the timing of the trip and the conversations we had were equally enlightening.
We have just celebrated New Year’s Day, the time when thoughts turn to resolutions and we make lists of habits we want to change, stop or start in our lives. It is the day that we state to those around us that we will begin the diet, join the gym or quit smoking. However, the developments of this week of travel have given me a different perspective on how we should be living life. Perhaps resolving to do something in the future is not the most important and profound decisions we should make as January 1st comes around each year.
During the first part of our journey, we spent some time with my wife’s friend at the theater seeing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The basic plot of the movie revolves around a middle-aged man who never been anywhere or done anything significant during his adult life who decides, instead of dreaming about adventure, he wants to take one. In the conversation that followed, it occurred to me that many of us are susceptible to the same temptation: to plan one day to do something but never plan today to do something. The problem with resolutions is often that they are solely future-oriented (something we’re planning on accomplishing over the next year), but life happens in the present.
During the second part of our journey, we sat across from loved ones who are living one day at a time because doctors have told them that time may be short. For them, resolutions to lose ten pounds or clean the garage seem hollow. For them, and for us as we sat in their kitchen, today is important – to say what needs to be said while it can be said, to share time and tears before it is too late. They have no guarantees of another year to make another list of resolutions; all they know is that they have today.
So, because the calendar has changed its digits and a new year is upon us, allow me to share my New Year’s resolution (if it can be called that) – I will attempt to live today fully. What I mean is this: I will make a concerted effort to not just dream about what I will do one day but to do it today; I will try to leave no expression of love or encouragement or comfort unspoken; I will seek to never put off to tomorrow what I can do today. Will you help me and join me and live today fully?
Whatever you resolve to do, I pray you will have the strength and determination to do it. And I pray you will be able to start today.