So it begins, ten days in, the usual but slightly-more-exciting-than-last-year humdrum of the new year. Stockings once filled are now emptied and stored away. Trees once decorated now decompose in the backyard cold. And the New Year makes its promises and sneers; resolutions resound. Last years lives are things of the past. Sights toward the future create the new suture.
There is a reason we call it The New Year and not something like The Continuation, or, That Thing Comes Directly After That Thing Last Year. We simply don’t want it to be. It can’t be that. It must be something different. Something new. We are a people thirsty for renewal. Hungry for redemption. And the idea of any kind of a fresh start to remediate “what once was” lights up the innards of our spirit like the blaze of the Texas sun. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, January the First is just another day belonging to the following year, only we call it something different than the other 364--holy.
Shortly following the new year come these things we have invariably titled “New Years Resolutions.” You know, those goals and dreams and workout routines that magically enact themselves between 11:59:59 PM and 12:00:00 AM. What an absolutely perfect time for obvious resolution to occur! It simply can’t happen before that time; we have failed too much. Thus, it is at this exact moment that we somehow transact a newer, more appealing version of our once-failed selves. For those (like me) who planned out resolutions before the start of countdown, we have even gone so far as to presuppose failure before the year has even begun. Regardless, we are all are trying to fix something that hasn’t yet been broken, or, rather, something that has been broken all along and is unfixable by our own means.
I worry about us as a people when I think about the assumed immediacy that we believe to occur within that miniscule window, as if some self-salvific thing is supposed to happen wherein the interior gods of the self once again reconvene to perform a unprecedented work of perfection in our heart and mind. (We wouldn’t dare call it gods of the self, though; we would call it Jesus or God or something more common and less self-centered) Certainly, at that very moment these inner gods would monumentally decide to blow away with atom-bomb grandiosity the blahness and failure of the year prior, simply by our mustering up the self-determination to make it happen. We just weren’t trying hard enough before!
But now we are going to try harder and be better and God is finally on our side, transforming the frustration, anxiety, guilt, fear, doubt, worry, and failures into a sudden burst of courage which is sure, this time, to transform the new year like none before it. It’s just that this is never the case. Frustration returns as we fight with our parents. Anxiety creeps its way in when we miss a day of working out or fail an exam we promised ourselves we would study for. Guilt clutches our conscience after we fail to resist the urges of seemingly unconquerable sexual lust. Fear ensues when a close friend or a loved one passes away, and we begin to contemplate the reality of death and the length of eternity. Doubt screams into our ears when we forget to read our Bible like we promised God we would do better this year. And worry depletes our hope when we realize, again, that we have failed at being God.
That’s another thing that I do quite frequently, in fact--play God. Like most in the modern world, I live three to five years from now. I’ve already got my career nice and lined up and my wife picked out and ready to marry; oh, and did I mention that we’re expecting? I catch myself defining everything--events, goals, plans, dreams, hopes--in the scope of the year, or years. I ask friends and friends ask me: What are you going to do next year? What will that mean for you a few years? Where do you see yourself ten years from now? We reply something like: Oh, I’ve got all year to decide. I doubt I’ll know for another few years. I’ll figure it out next year. It’s discouraging how no one ever presumes dead in their arsenal of annual possibilities. I wonder how different the actual course of the year would play out if our internal clock didn’t tick with a yearly tock.
To push things a bit further into the cosmos, our allotted 85 years of life (generously) is hardly the faint speckle of a star in the night sky--but we treat it like it’s eternity’s grand cause for existence or the center of the universe. We place an unduly amount of pressure and significance on ourselves and our importance in the grand scheme, but we are minute. A speck. Infinitesimally small. Likewise, our new years resolutions to our earthly problems (the problem of man) prove to be as equally flawed as our understanding of our right relation to God and the universe.
Fortunately, though, stars do still exist. And while their glimmer is dim looking out from earth, 10 or 20 lightyears out it’s clear that the stars are much larger than we remember, and they are, in fact, of great significance. My greatest challenge here on earth is to not equate my life and its resolutions with the sun.
Me, I enjoy the sun; I just can’t look at it. It’s at the stars that I am able to sit wide-eyed and reflect in contemplative gaze. And I do have some resolutions, only I’ve resolved to not call them “resolutions.” I actually don’t have a name for them. If I had to think of them as anything I would think about them as exercise or training. Never do I find my own dilemmas and struggles--ones I’ve resisted and fought and failed at doing so for twenty-six years--something to be conquered in a split second or by mere statement of resolution. I have found, however, that resolution, while not usually immediate, is in fact constant and ever-present. And these new things I try or methods I create for self-betterment, while they may be inherently good, never, never bring about the kind of resolve that I ascribe them. I just have to shift my mode of thinking about resolution in the way that Jesus teaches me to. Then I can see that my resolutions, my training exercises, if you will, are simply the ongoing act of sanctification--a painstakingly slower process than I would like it to be. And, in the midst of being sanctified, redemption plays out.
As Paul of Tarsus writes in his letter to the people of Corinth:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (9:24-27)
May the new year be for you a symbol of hope, a microcosm of the real truth of True Redemption. May the course of this new year not become your enemy because it fails to deliver what you thought it promised you; but may it be--new year checklists aside--a race well run.