The beginning of a new year is typified by two things- a review of both highs and lows from the previous 12 months and a firm resolution to make next year better by some new pattern of action. Social media makes it relatively easy to review the past year in a few minutes, using algorithms and code to tell you exactly how your life played out within the last 12 months. Unfortunately, the resolution and determination of our future path remains a task only we can accomplish, and we usually do quite poorly in this.
I want to address two things about resolutions and why I view them as an unnecessary burden on our hopes and plans for another year. The first is that from a practicality standpoint, our resolutions are often too vague and therefore easily compromised. The number one resolution always seems to be an increased level of fitness, or more simply “getting into shape,” although saving more money, reading more books, more places visited, and living more life are popular themes in social media right now. This is expected because of the Christmas-induced binge of the past few weeks. I met one person who had no problem eating far more than normal for all of December, because he would just “resolve it all away” come January 1st. But what does getting in shape over the course of an entire year look like? Running a mile every once in a while? Eating a salad instead of a burger for lunch? The slightly more specific plan of losing weight still falls short of what we want, because a loss of one pound from January to December is still technically a success. What all this means is that unless you have a specific plan such as losing twenty-five pounds or reading five books, you will be devoured by ambiguity and always set up for disappointment. By not clearly defining our goals we leave them open to interpretation of success and therefore run the risk of letting our plan slip or be downgraded when it proves more difficult than originally thought.
While my first critique of resolutions are more related to form, what follows is more about their purpose. From the list of popular resolutions in the previous paragraph a common theme can be determined, and that is the fallacy that engorging ourselves on a specific action will determine a successful life over the next year. If I lose weight I will better meet the world’s standards of beauty, or saving money will make me rich and therefore increase my standing among peers. Reading more will make me smarter than those around me, and traveling will make me a more interesting person so that people will be more drawn to me and my experiences. The only problem with this line of thought is that it takes you in the opposite direction of where you want to be. The concept of resolutions fall right in line with the deeds-based ideology so popular in today’s world, that our actions are our salvation, while faith is what merely guides our hands in action. To adhere to such a plan runs against the entire concept of grace and what it means for how we live our lives. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul tells of a thorn placed in his side and how he begged with the Lord to have it removed. And yet he was told that the grace given freely to all Christians was sufficient for him, and that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (Verse 9) Think about that radical concept for a second- God’s power and right-ness is perfected when we are at our worst in the eyes of the world. Paul goes on to write that he is even more glad in his weaknesses, as well as the ” insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (v. 10) that come with living in man’s broken world. Not only should we not run away from what the world tells us is wrong with ourselves, we should rejoice in what faults the world finds in us, as it makes us celebrate and hope for even more in the grace that is otherworldly. How ironic that less than a week after celebrating the arrival of the only option for true salvation, Christians join the rest of society in pursuing deeds that will hopefully provide comfort and salvation. Oh, how quickly we can forget even the most important of things.
My goal is not to reduce the hopes for a year which is only a few hours old, but to redirect them. 2017 and the years beyond it can be the best period we have ever known, but no amount of money gained or weight lost can accomplish this. Rather, our only route to see contentment and eventual joy comes in rejoicing at the gift given us earlier this month at no cost to us- the saving grace of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. Until we begin to comprehend this, all other resolutions, regardless of their ambiguity or concrete definition, will leave us unfulfilled and wanting.