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For every single ounce of me that loves Christmas, I sometimes wonder whether I love New Year a little more.
I’ve been writing this blog for over five years, during which my output has gone up and down like a yo-yo – so it’s telling that, regardless of how much or little I’m writing generally, I’ve always felt compelled to write something in January to do with the new year stretched out before us.
Last year, I wrote with optimism that 2017 would be a year for more writing (it was – certainly more than 2016 – but 2018 will be even more prolific…). In 2016, I spoke of the guilt and failure that can surround New Year’s resolutions. In 2015, I vowed to spend more time reading and more time cooking. In 2014, I wrote about shedding the guilt, and, in 2013, about living a more celebratory life.
I think what does it for me about New Year is the fresh sense of perspective and optimism. I feel the same in September, at the start of the new school year. I wonder if it’s no coincidence that September and January fall right after August and December, which is when I get my proper breaks – an August summer holiday, and a December longer-than-usual stay with my hospitable in-laws. Both these times perk me up, give me a chance to reflect and think (as much as is possible with tiny people around), and get me excited to return to normal life with a bit more vigour.
It’s not hard to derive from this that I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love finding ways to become more organised, efficient, spiritual, healthy or whatever. But, this year, it struck me how easy it is to let our good intentions block our relationship with our Father God. Here are a few easy pitfalls I know I can fall into:
1. Resolutions can make us feel like we’re in control. Of course we love to feel like we have a handle on things, don’t we? It’s entirely natural to want to feel like we’re prepared for whatever life throws at us. But, sadly, life throws all sorts of things at us that no amount of January weight loss, healthy eating, housework regimes or devotional times can handle. I could name you four things that four of my friends suffered in the last couple of months of 2017 which could not have been predicted, or prevented through better planning or organisation. We don’t know what’s round the corner, and neither do our resolutions or the improved lives we might have as a result of them. Only God knows, and He is the one we need to allow to steer our lives.
It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we hand over control to God. For example, a common resolution might be to lose weight, exercise more or eat more healthily. This is godly, insofar as there is a Biblical imperative to look after the bodies God has given us. But new diets and regimes can easily start to control us, competing for the throne that should belong to God. So perhaps we can alter our resolution:
Old resolution: “I will lose weight by joining [insert name of preferred slimming group!]”
New resolution: “I will honour God with my body. This year I will pray for Him to help me love and accept my body, and to help me get it into good condition. I will join [slimming group/gym/whatever] but, however well or badly this goes, my priority will be to commit my body to God.”
2. Resolutions can make us feel superior.
One of my resolutions this year is to exercise more patience with my kids, particularly in the area of helping them to regulate their emotions by staying the calm, sensible one (trust me, this is not something which comes easily to this impatient, oft-tempestuous Desertmum). However ‘well’ I do at this, I will still never be a perfect parent, but I might go a couple of weeks, or – let’s push the boat out here – months, with increased patience, and that might in turn make me feel superior to a parent I witness yelling at their kid in the supermarket. A BIG FAT ‘NO’ TO THIS! We are called to humble ourselves and serve others. Does this sound like the definition of ‘superiority’ to you?
It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we prioritise humility.
Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and of course we see bags of it in Jesus himself. It is clearly a good and godly thing for me to desire this gift, particularly in the area of parenting. But patience without love is useless! So I could adjust my resolution as follows:
Old resolution: “I will be more patient with my kids.”
New resolution: “I will ask God for His patience as I interact with my kids. I want to grow in His love – for my kids and for other people. I will remember how hard it is to be a parent, and will pray that God uses me to be a blessing, not a curse, to other parents. And when I fail at patience, I will take comfort in God’s forgiveness.”
3. Resolutions can make us feel more holy.
Many Christians like to start the New Year with a resolution linked to their Christian journey. Last year I resolved to read My Rock My Refuge, committing to daily Bible reading. Others might resolve to join a lively church, get involved with the church they’ve recently joined, start attending a house group, develop a structure of personal prayer, or read a discipleship book. The problem is that, if we focus too much on these ‘external’ habits of faith, we can forget the God who is our motivating factor.
It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we acknowledge God’s love and acceptance of us, just as we are.
These are all good and godly resolutions – God wants to draw even closer to us, and always has so much more to teach us, show us, and astound us with! So hats-off to you if you’ve made a resolution like this for 2018, and may God bless you as you draw closer to Him and seek to hear His voice more clearly in your life. But let’s keep, at the very forefront of our minds, the truth that God loves us just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more (or less). If we spend 2018 not going to church, reading the Bible or praying, He won’t love us any less, come New Year 2019.
Old resolution: “I will pray daily for the members of my house group by name.” (This is one of mine for 2018 – think I’ve managed it once so far!)
New resolution: “I will praise God for His love for me and for every one of my house group friends. I know that He has their backs, and sustains them from day to day. In the light of this, I will bring their names to Him daily, knowing how much He wants to do in all of our lives.”
God bless you as you consider the year ahead, and what He might be calling you to.
(I have one very exciting ‘resolution’, a sense of what God might be calling me to, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon!)