Weekly Nourishment for the Journey of Life
"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.
TURNING NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS UPSIDE DOWN
Set new goals. Plan your year. Worry less. Dream bigger. You got this. I am enough.
I'm writing this week's column on New Year's Day, the one day that spawns countless resolutions to make a fresh start at, well, just about anything! You don't have to look far to find optimists resolving to change their entire lives … tomorrow! You also don't need to look far for the pessimists (they consider themselves realists!) who think themselves so much more enlightened than the clueless newbs who have yet to give up making them in the first place.
I've long held the New Year's holiday to be a random (any day can be the first day of a new year, right?) excuse to throw a party (can't I just stay home, please?). And then we start dreaming about finally making a change. A lot of us fall for it, don't we? (I know I do anyway–I made a few this year myself.) Don't we all, from time to time, fall for the siren song of hope and change, of a better life? "This time it'll be different! This time I really mean it! I finally know what led me to defeat last year, and it won't happen again this time!" But then, of course, it does. Have you made any resolutions this year? Given up? Not going to be taken in … again? Convinced it'll be different this time?
Isn't it interesting that no matter how pessimistic we may be, we still believe transformation is possible? Hope, somehow or other, seems hard-wired into us. Even those of us who have long since given up on New Year's resolutions will at some point surrender to the desire to try to change our lives for the better. And underlying that desire is … hope. The idea that change is actually, dare I say it, possible. Now, biblical hope is something more, as I wrote about last fall. And yet, this longing for transformation haunts us. I say "haunts" because don't a lot of us wish we could stop hoping? We've tried, but we always seem to cave in to our inner Charlie Brown, falling once again for Lucy's craven temptation to kick that darn football!
The problem for us, I think, is not so much picking ourselves up to try again, it's finding a way of approaching change that meets us at the center of our hearts and souls where real change happens–or at least begins. Our problem is that we focus on our behaviors rather than our hearts. But the truth is that changing our hearts is actually both harder–and in some ways easier–than changing our behaviors.
Our problem is that we focus on our behaviors rather than our hearts.
The key is realizing that will power alone will not do the trick–at least it won't be able to usher us into the really substantial sort of change we're looking for. We need a will that's immersed in a Will that's bigger than ours, stronger than ours–a will that's directed toward God's truth for us, God's kingdom life for us and in us, and His larger purpose for His people. You see, as long as our focus in just on living happier, fitter, thinner lives of our own we're bound to fall short. His purpose for us is bigger than we are. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 8:36: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: "Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?"
A moment ago I said this was both harder and easier. It's harder because everywhere we turn this time of year people are offering new behaviors, products, and memberships that they promise us will at long last do the trick. Options abound! But those options only have the veneer of ease. In the end they usually fail us because they don't get at our hearts. The easier way turns out to be the harder–and the longer–way.
We need...a will that's directed toward God's truth for us, God's kingdom life for us and in us, and His larger purpose for His people.
True life change is actually easier once we've done the hard work of letting go of our own wills and priorities and begun to look for God's will and His priorities for us. Then we "simply" walk in His ways. "Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:1-5). Those who "delight in the law of the Lord … are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper" (Psalm 1:2-3).
When we pray this way, and walk in this way, we learn better what to love and what to leave. We learn better what to set our hearts on and what to live toward–we don't have to make it up on our own or follow the lead of other folks who only stir up our envy (and are likely as confused as we are, if not more so!). We learn how to exchange our vision of ourselves for God's. What if we could see ourselves–and not just our present selves, but our future selves–as He sees us? What if we could want for ourselves what He wants for us?
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we go astray in our resolutions because we forget that we can only become the people God intends us to be only with the help of each other! As long as we're flailing in waters too deep for us, we're bound to fail, but we can lift each other up; we can throw a lifeline to those around us and help them toward the end they're made for. And if we're truly sold on this idea of community, of being the Body of Christ both with and for each other, we'll recognize the lifeline that someone is throwing us instead of casting it aside in order to "do it on our own."
As an example, my wife, Sandy, called my attention to this short little piece in the paper this morning. It tells of a man mired in a downward spiral he couldn't escape no matter how hard he tried on his own. But a community came to his rescue: "The Philadelphia Phillies' $300 million shortstop, Trea Turner, was batting a measly .235 in 107 games through Aug. 3, according to a Washington Post analysis, earning boos from some of the ballclub's notoriously vocal fans. Then a producer for Philadelphia's SportsRadio 94WIP made a suggestion: As a show of support, let's give Turner standing ovations when he steps up to the plate. Starting on Aug. 4, fans in the City of Brotherly Love rose to the occasion. So did Turner. For the 48 remaining games, Turner batted .337, with 16 home runs, 42 RBIs and nine steals, helping his team make it to the National League Championship Series" (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 2023).
The power of an encouraging word can do more than a thousand New Year's resolutions. How about, in the spirit of Jesus' words in Mark 8 above, we give up on our own small-ish resolutions and invest in each others'? The old way–at best–changes one life, our own. Jesus' way changes other people's lives for the better every day.
Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.