Disclaimer: This post is for the undisciplined. Those of us who can't remember the last time we actually kept a New Year's resolution. Those of us who just barely remember what happened over the course of the past year. If you're the strong-willed, determined, type A, self-made type, feel free to sit this one out. There's a lot you probably wouldn't understand.
For as long as I can remember, I've loved starting over. I know that's a strange thing to admit, but true story. If there's one thing that makes me feel truly alive, it's making something out of nothing. I love writing in a fresh journal. (I purchased three yesterday). I love making new recipes and making new friends. I love wearing new clothes for the first time. I love the smell of new cars and babies and houses. I love engineering from the ground up. I love making new plans and dreaming about what could be.
And there's nothing quite like a new year to bring us new perspective and new energy. Somehow when the clock strikes at midnight on January 1st, every one of us feels like we can really do it this year. This will be the year that we finally lose the weight, start the business, earn the promotion, spend more time doing what makes us truly happy ... the possibilities are as boundless as our dreams.
But here's the thing I know about myself. As much as I love new beginnings, I suck at making New Year's resolutions almost as much as I suck at keeping them. Discipline just isn't my spiritual gift. I'm the annoying person in the gym for the first two weeks of January keeping the regulars from their treadmills and free weights. By Valentine's Day (and I'm being generous) I'm back to eating chocolate + pasta + wine ... simultaneously.
"Maybe you're focusing on the wrong things."
I can't remember who offered this piece of valuable advice (I think it was recently?) but it stuck with me so thank you anonymous friend. What if the reason I can't keep my resolutions is because I'm focusing on the wrong things?
I just did a quick Google search on the most common resolutions in the U.S. Not surprising - I've made many of these myself:
- Get fit.
- Travel more.
- Save more.
- Get organized.
These aren't bad resolutions by any stretch, but maybe - just maybe - they're not the right or the "best" things to resolve.
Think about it. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. maintain a healthy BMI? How much time did Abraham Lincoln spend traveling? Did Eleanor Roosevelt have her finances in order? How organized was the Apostle Paul, really?
We don't know. And no one particularly cares to be honest. What we remember most about those who have truly impacted the world, or maybe even just our world, is not their ability to keep it all together at all times. Instead we remember what they left behind.
That's the definition of legacy after all. And I desperately want to leave one of my own.
Jonathan Edwards was perhaps one of the best "resolvers." At the very impressionable age of 18, he created 70 resolutions over the course of two years that would guide his life. Edwards would go on to become one of the great theologians of our time, a respected pastor and author, president of Princeton University.
Maybe he can teach me - you - something about resolving.
It strikes me that Edwards' resolutions are a far cry from the most common of our day. He resolved on substantive, deep and weighty things - his character, his relationships, his philosophy on suffering, his spiritual life, and his death. You can find his resolutions online, but here are just a few that jumped out and grabbed me:
#1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
#17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
#31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.
#32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.
Here is a man focused intently on living a life that matters. He had a personal mission statement for goodness sakes. Everything he resolved, was designed to help him leave a legacy that he could be proud of.
And he did.
It strikes me too, that Edwards not only resolved on very important and substantive things (for all intents and purposes, the "right" things), but also for the right reasons. His resolutions aren't vain, or self-interested. He makes it clear that the point of all His resolving, of His entire life, is to bring God glory, and in the process, to bring himself profit and pleasure. No wonder his resolutions sound a lot different than ours. His personal legacy was wrapped up in making much of God, not of himself.
Which makes me wonder: how would our resolutions look differently if we weren't resolving for ourselves? How would our lives look different?
I am so very often living for myself and the others who depend on me. But what does God want me to resolve in the coming year? What if our resolution-making process isn't so much an exercise in self-will as it is in self-abandon?
Maybe we fail, not only because we resolve the wrong things, but for the wrong reasons.
Many years after making his list of resolutions, Edwards, the master of resolving, shared his secret:
"I find, by experience, that, let me make resolutions, and do what I will, with never so many inventions, it is all nothing, and to no purpose at all, without the motions of the Spirit of God ... There [must be] no dependence on myself. Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, except we depend on the grace of God. For if it were not for his mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next." (January 2, 1722)
If we're honest, we all find ourselves in the same boat - powerless to exercise perfect discipline. What good is it to resolve the right things for the right reasons, if we can't follow through? Our own human effort will never, ever be enough.
The sum of our personal, private life - the part that no one sees - is failure, even if we succeed by the world's standards. We win one day, lose the next. Win too much and we become self-righteous. Lose too much and we become depressed and quit.
It's a vicious cycle and the reason we have to keep resolving every year.
We never arrive.
Which leads to the question I am almost afraid to ask.
If we can't keep our resolutions, why resolve anything at all?
I wear a lot of hats, and I'll admit the thought of creating one more expectation for myself is itself tiring. I know plenty of folks who find themselves here. They've abandoned New Year's Resolutions altogether because they know underneath, it's all a sham. We make grand, sweeping declarations about who we will become this year and all we will accomplish, and then we break them all one by one. So it's better not to resolve anything, we conclude wearily.. Just try to live life the best you can every day and save the resolving for the ambitious, fickle dreamers.
But here's the thing. Even if you don't make any resolutions this year, you're still very much resolved. Something - some moral code - is guiding the life you're living. And rest assured - whatever you've resolved, whatever or whoever you've decided will be the barometer for the person you really and truly want to be - you're incapable of adhering to that standard perfectly. Whether you choose to vocalize your resolutions or not, you don't measure up.
Your resolutions aren't the sham.
If it's all starting to sound hopeless - you're finally getting the point. And that's why God's grace is so very necessary for us failures. He knows we're nowhere near perfect, but somehow, when we surrender our small, feeble efforts, He transforms them, transforms us!
We experience true life transformation, not by keeping our resolutions perfectly, but by wholeheartedly pursuing the right resolutions for the right reasons. To leave a legacy not of our own, but for His glory. And somewhere along the way, our human effort links up with God's amazing and awesome grace and just like that ... fireworks.
There is so much in my life that needs resolving at present. I read Colossians 1:6 yesterday and it hit me like a blow between the eyes:
"This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace." Colossians 1:6
"It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives ..." I look back over last year and struggle to find the fruit of my life. In what areas did I grow? Where was I faithful when it was really hard? Where did I truly make a difference? What prayers did God answer? How did I experience His character in a new way? I lived a whole year, and it all feels like a blur. 12 months of I couldn't tell you what. It whizzed by, undocumented, unplanned really. And from this vantage point, I can't really put my finger on my successes or failures. So much for hindsight being 20/20.
"There is fruit, babe," my husband reassures me in the car yesterday evening. "You may not be able to see it all, but it's there."
And I know he's right but somehow, it's not good enough for me. I don't know how many years of this life I'll have left, but three decades are already in the books. This year could be my last. If I knew that to be true, how would I live it?
For His glory. For His legacy, not my own.
And so begins the annoying, painful and painstaking process of making New Year's resolutions this year that will likely reveal the many areas where I need to have my own life changed by the truth of the Gospel. I know I will fail daily. I know I will need an extra supply of God's grace.
But since when did we start abandoning the pursuit of what is noble and right and true, just because we can't fully achieve it?
"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14