The usual way American Christians go around making New Year’s Resolutions is beyond-belief-stupid.
It goes like this—you indulge in end-of-the-year festivities from Thanksgiving until Christmas. You eat, drink, or sleep too much at Christmas, because—hello!—it’s a celebration! Then, you allow the enemy of your soul to get a foothold—it’s called self-loathing—and you start to wonder how you can punish yourself for Celebrating The Birth Of Jesus. I had pie in celebration. Now I will give up pie. I reveled. I must give up reveling. I slept in. I must get up early.
[I see those cogs turning, but please don’t quote Franklin to me here: he didn’t have electric lighting. Nor was he a believer, so he could not access supernatural grace for health, wealth, or wisdom.]
The devil knows we aren’t giving up Christmas, so he wants to make you think the indulgence itself is evil. He calls out the Puritans on his side, or the Separatists, or the Lollards, or Luddites in general, none of whom lived in the United States of SuperAbundant Food and Ubiquitous Opportunity like we all do. They had to limit themselves so their kids wouldn’t die of starvation. He calls these Spiritual Idols (admit it) into witness and says, “They didn’t; you shouldn’t.”
So we call pie a sin when it was God who created pecans, and we call sleeping-in a sin when God declared all of Eternity will be Sabbath Rest. We take days off to enjoy a Remembrance of Bethlehem, and the devil worms in (damn him to hell!) and calls good evil.
Then, the worm turns, and he calls evil good. He puts up Deprivation, Lack, and Overwork, and calls it Resolution, a nice Puritan-esque word. He puts up Self-loathing, Self-made-law (with its inevitable end: failure, guilt, more self-loathing) and calls it Happy New Year!
Woe to you who call evil good and good evil! Stop it!
So, before you go putting yourself under new self-made laws which, when you break—because you will break them—you will feel guilty, failed, and stupid for even trying, listen to Auntie Sharon’s three guidelines for making grace-filled, peaceful, and happy Resolutions for 2012 that will give you joyful anticipation for the whole year.
First, let’s look at a few things you should not do.
1. You should not put yourself in a position of inevitable failure, especially if the result of that failure is guilt feelings. Or failure feelings. Or, “What’s the matter with me?” feelings. Nothing is the matter with you. You are awesome. (Stop with the “Wait—I can do all things through Christ…” because Christ does not empower you to place yourself under more law! He died to redeem you from all that!)
2. You should not put yourself under you-made law (what? you want to be like God, deciding good and evil? Where have I heard that before?). Jesus died so that your sins would/could (depending on your soteriology) be forgiven. If you are one of the Redeemed Ones, God doesn’t see your sin. Therefore, making up things that will now be sin for you is both ridiculous and self-defeating.
Deciding on Saturday night that on Sunday morning it will be wrong to eat chocolate, to sleep-in, to spend your own money, not to marry for another year because you have to finish school or save another thousand dollars (or whatever is keeping you from your heart’s desire), or whatever it is you decided to deprive yourself of, is both stupid and wrong.
Let’s not even discuss how ridiculous it is to decide the night before a Major Holiday that we are now going to deprive ourselves—what? At least, have your deprivation start on January 2, silly! Deciding to give up feasting the night before New Year’s Day is like deciding on July 3 to give up watching fireworks, to “fast and pray for a season” the night before your anniversary. Dumb, not to mention hurtful to the people who are working in the kitchen to make yummy things!
3. You should not say “bad” on what God said was “good.” God looked at the entire creation and said, “Good.” Then he looked at you (humanity) and said, “Very Good.” Ahem, I rock. Made in His image. Redeemed. Blood-purchased. Another year has dawned—pass the pie! (I’m a chocolate cake person, myself, to be honest, lots of frosting, please.)
Caveat: Of course—duh—if it is some morally-depraved sin you are wanting to give up, that’s different, Buster. What’s the matter with you? Throw the computer in the trash and take up Reading Scripture Aloud to old people who can’t hear—so you have to read it really loud: maybe then it will get into your own thick skull: but, please start in the New Testament so you hear some Grace. Trust me, you need it! Sin is not a matter for New Year’s Resolutions. It is a matter of Right Now Repentance—you’re waiting til Saturday night at midnight? Jesus died over that thing: fling it to hell. Now.
Caveat Two: Of course—more duh—if it is an organizational thing for your family, sit with the other people involved and figure it out. It’s not a Resolution; it’s a Plan. Go to college. Change your job. Sell your house. Get a dog. Marry—Saturday is better than Sunday, though, because you’ll get the tax break for the whole year, just fyi.
If you’re a grown-up person, stop waiting for someone else’s permission to do That Thing you want to do: fly to Florida and meet the guy you met online—make a decision about him in person; don’t wait for your parents to get onboard about your adoption, your homeschooling, your wife getting a job if she wants one, your move to another state, your move to China to teach English. Stop holding yourself back from Good Things God Created: opportunity, aspiration, promotion, expansion. Listen to me: go for it.
And now–drumroll–Auntie Sharon’s easy and practical guidelines for Grace-Filled New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Sit alone—no people, no music, no apps—for 15 minutes. If you fall asleep, you have to start over. Think only this thought: God loves me. I am blessed. Jesus died for me. I am favored. Holy Spirit empowers me. I am gifted. Think this over and over and over. Get it into your head that you are deeply, truly, and wholly loved, forgiven, and accepted in Christ. That thing you did back then is over. It has disappeared. It is nothing.
2. Think—in light of that Thought, what gives me joy? What would make me super happy to do? (Here, you may check with your spouse/friend/child to see if it’s okay to keep thinking this way, if it’s something that would need that person’s approval and cooperation. That is, if you realize: “Wow, God loves me. I am favored and empowered: I’m going to medical school/taking up mammography/moving to Phuket,” you need to check with the mother of your eight children, and, frankly, the children.)
3. Do—if possible, do this before midnight on Saturday night. Do the first step: apply online, mail a check, mark off the space for the flower bed, pull up the adoption website and call your wife over to see, book a flight, go to Groupon and buy that hang-gliding lesson, clean the fridge and stock it with raw food, put the first brush-stroke of bright purple on your daughter’s bedroom wall—say yes, already! Let your friends know you’ll be taking in piano students, starting a reading group (announce the first book), starting a blog, getting a job at seventy-two, because, for crying out loud, you like to work.
That is, actually indulge in the goodness you are following after. Jump into the plan. Throw your hat over the fence. Apply for promotion. Make a step to expand your influence. Once you’ve done the first step, the second step will be obvious. The point, of course, is to make positive steps to expand your influence, not negative steps to deprive yourself.
That’s it—sit, think, do. As opposed to the usual way we go about New Year’s Resolutioning: self-loathe, self-law, failure—rinse, repeat. No wonder we’re defeated.
But just to be clear, I think it is better not to make Resolutions at all: you should always be meditating on God’s love for you, what would give you and your family joy, and taking steps to expand your influence in the world. But, if you must, at least make them in such a way that you are happy, full of joy, and looking forward to a Wonderful 2012.