As we head back from wherever we’ve holidayed, the time is now upon us: the time to turn our minds, dulled by fruit-mince tarts, Central-Otago cherries and sparkling wine, towards 2016. Like sun-kissed apricots we return slightly red (because we forgot we don’t tan well), fresh, energised, excited at the millions of possibilities that the upcoming year might hold!
It is around this time that we make new year’s resolutions…you know, those vague promises we make to ourselves which we then guiltily break before summer ends. Sigh. I was amused by a post by one of our roommates on facebook recently:
“It’s that time again where we all agreed at the new years party to go to the gym but after 2 weeks we give up and avoid the other person except a time will come where we are All at the same place and we engage in small talk avoiding the elephant in the room then are thankful when its over then the next new years party happens and we do it all again”
So how do we make good new year’s resolutions? Why do we continue to persist with this woeful practice?
Well, to be honest, I don’t know. But I do have a theory why it’s so hard to keep new year’s promises.
The new year is a natural time to make resolutions. The old year has come to end and with it all our failures and shortcomings which we’re keen to put behind us. The new, fresh year lies before us, untainted by who we’ve been or what we’ve done. Endless possibilities for being cool, beautiful, intelligent, sociable — whatever the desires of our hearts — that is what 2016 could hold! Problem is, that, though the year is new, we are not. We’re the same flawed people we were last year, and the year before that. And the desires we have for the coming year are frequently personal desires for self-improvement without the support to make real change happen.
Ok, so I don’t want to be a kill-joy and I’m sure for some of you new year’s resolutions are a really helpful practice to begin your year on the right note.
However, I do want to offer a different starting point. See, new year’s day is a secular celebration and one that traditionally focuses on the individual and his or her personal goals for self-improvement. For Christians, the year actually begins with Advent and the lead up to Christmas. But there is another celebration in the Christian calendar which traditionally falls on January 6: Epiphany.
Epiphany: a good starting point for new year’s resolutions
Epiphany, in some traditions, celebrates Jesus’ baptism… the moment when God revealed to the world his beloved Son. Luke recounts the baptism in this way:
“When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” (Luke 3:21-22)
I believe this is a great place to start for making new year’s resolutions. Here’s why:
- I begin, not with myself, how I can improve myself within my own power. I begin with Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, who was revealed so that I can learn something true about humanity.
- In Jesus I learn something profoundly true about myself, which should form the foundation to every new year’s resolution: In Jesus, I am a son (or daughter) of God, whom God loves. In Jesus, God is pleased with me, no matter my flaws and failures.
- The heaven’s open and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. The ultimate “resolution” is that God’s Spirit descends on us rather than us climbing our way to God through self-improvements and self-help.
- Jesus prayed. In the same way, as we learn to pray through Jesus, the Holy Spirit descends on us, transforming us into the sons and daughters of God that we were meant to be.
- As I become a son of God through Jesus’ Sonship, I am united with other sons and daughters of God — the church.
So…if this was my starting to point to making new year’s resolutions, here a few conclusions I might draw:
- Begin in prayer: Thanking God for revealing Jesus; asking God that you might become more like Jesus by his Spirit descending on you.
- Any new year’s resolution should affirm the fact that you are a beloved son or daughter of God. If you are making your resolution out of a deep sense of unworth or failure, it is probably not helpful or sustainable.
- While your resolution may involve some aspect of self-improvement, try focusing your resolutions on how you belong and serve within the community. My faith with God is not just a personal faith. It is firstly a communal faith and therefore my resolutions should encourage me and push me to give myself to my faith community.
- Share your resolutions with a trusted friend or mentor. Ask them to keep you accountable throughout the year, particularly when you can’t be bothered.
If you have read this far, p.m. me on facebook with the password: RESOLUTION! If you are in the first three I resolve to give you chocolate at the next Living Room. Just a wee goodie for ya.
Let me finish with these words from the great mystic Thomas a Kempis. Great words to reflect on at the beginning of the year from his famous work The Imitation of Christ:
“He is vain that putteth his hope in men or in creatures.
Be not ashamed to serve other men for the love of Jesu Christ and to be seen poor in this world. Stand not upon thyself but set thy trust in God. Do that in thee is and God shall be nigh to thy good will.
Trust not in thine own knowledge not in the wiliness of any man living: but rather in the grace of God that helpeth meek folk and maketh low them that presume of themselves.
Rejoice thee not in riches if thou have any nor in friends if they be mighty: but in God that giveth all things and above all things desireth to give himself.
Lift not up thyself for greatness nor for beauty of the body the which is corrupt and defouled with a little sickness.
Please not thyself for ability or for wit lest thou displease God of whom cometh all the good that thou hast naturally…
…Continual peace is with the meek man…”
Continual peace be with you this new year!