New Year’s Resolutions and The Slow Process of Change
I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. On the one hand, I’m enamored by the idea of a fresh start and a clean slate every time that big, jeweled ball drops in Times Square. Reflecting on the past and looking to the future with anticipation and hope – who wouldn’t enjoy that euphoric sense of optimism?
And yet – I’ve been around the block for enough countdowns to know that, though I may have my sights set on a handful of goals in the new year, life has a tendency to distract me from those ideals, often before Ryan Seacrest wishes us all goodnight.
Apparently I’m not alone. Yes, there are those unicorns out there who “slay” their goals by the first quarter of the year. But the vast majority (80%) fail at their resolutions by February. Which begs the question: why? why bother? Isn’t doing the same thing expecting a different result the definition of insanity?
As I reflected this year on whether or not to “resolve,” my thoughts drifted to the bigger issue: the process of change. Not just change of the eat-kale-every-day-variety, but deep, inner change. Change of the heart, the affections, the character. The type of spiritual change to which we as Christians are called, yet find ourselves struggling to attain.
Our collective day-by-day resolution: To be more Christlike. But…how? Why do I find myself struggling with the same issues year after year? Why haven’t I licked doubt and anxiety? When will I respond with “Yes, you may enter…and go forth in peace,” when some
moron precious soul cuts me off on Central Expressway?
The thing is….there is nothing I can do to speed up my growth in Christlikeness. I can sure slow down the process by my choices or my disobedience, but there simply is no fast-track to sanctification. We are either being conformed to the world or conformed to Christ at any given moment – there is no real middle ground. This tension of being new creations in a fallen world results in several rounds of two steps forward, one step back. Each circumstance of life, whether mundane or extraordinary, is an opportunity for formation. (Even things like eating kale.) So, as Eugene Peterson put it, our Christian life is a “long obedience in the same direction.”
When I find myself in the cycle of guilt over past and ongoing sins and frustration that I haven’t yet “arrived,” I remember Jesus’ words: Apart from me, you can do nothing.
Scripture makes it clear God is the agent of transformation (Phil 1:6; Isa 64:8; John 15:2-5; Psalm 127:1-2). Spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit forming our spirit to be more like Christ. We can rest in the fact that God is ultimately concerned with our formation and will go to great lengths to make us more like His Son.
So then, what is my first task? Simply to abide. (John 15) The Greek work for “abide” (meno) means to dwell, to stay, to settle in, to sink deeper. Abiding in Christ is the first step in having my outer actions (often the stuff of resolutions) reflect a deep, inner change of heart. As we draw our strength from the vine, He leads/guides/enables us to bear fruit and love others well. My tendency is to forget to receive nourishment from Christ as I seek to sprout grapes on my own.
Therefore, given the following truths about transformation:
- Transformation begins with God and is a process marked by grace. It is a lifelong journey, rooted in relationship.
- Transformation requires our cooperation. Intentional spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture meditation, fellowship, etc) put us in a place where we can notice God and respond to Him.
- Transformation is increasingly holistic. It involves all aspects of our humanity: spiritual, social, emotional, physical, intellectual.
- Transformation results in an increase in love for God and others. Transformation is communal.
1) Begin each day declaring my dependence on God and asking for His leading as I engage with life’s circumstances.
2) Refrain from overuse of my horn on Central Expressway.