I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions but I understand the appeal. Resolutions are made out of hopefulness and good intentions. The concept of New Year’s Day is arbitrary. Mankind created it to mark time and the succession of years, which is handy for history but has no real baring on the natural world. But it is a useful demarcation. We can look to New Year’s Day as a fresh start; day one of a new opportunity; a clean slate.
That’s not very different from the church’s use of Lent as a season for introspection and reform. Lenten disciplines are a spiritual “cleaning-of-house” to help us shed bad habits that separate us from God or take on new practices that feed our spiritual selves. I like the practice of “giving up” or “taking on” something for Lent, though I’m about as successful with those as I am New Year’s resolutions.
A line from our common confession during our Episcopal service resonates here as we ask God to forgive us the sins we have committed “by what we have done and by what we have left undone”. (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer page 360). Whether it’s on New Year’s Eve or Ash Wednesday, we take a look at our lives in a more intentional and intensive way than usual to inspect what we have failed to do and what we have done that maybe we should not have. Then we make resolutions or commit to a Lenten discipline with hopefulness that we are capable of reform.
Of course, we shouldn’t really be waiting for a yearly mechanism for this sort of personal review and reform. New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday could be any day and should be a regular day in our lives, dare I say, weekly or daily. We don’t change our behavior by waking up on January 1 and saying “Today, I am a new person with new habits!”. Rather, January 2-31 and beyond we continue to wake up with the same intentions and self-awareness. Change, reform, and transformation are hard and come at a cost.
But there’s a deeper and more important awareness that happens when taking personal stock. Last night our family sat to enjoy our traditional southern New Year’s meal…well, my husband and I enjoyed it and our daughters made faces. Our youngest was sound asleep napping, though he probably would have eaten a little of everything. The girls haven’t quite learned to appreciate the deliciousness that is black eyed peas and collard greens. I looked at what we have. Our children are educated, well-fed, and we have a warm home that suits our needs. We don’t struggle to pay our bills and preparing dinner last night didn’t require sacrifice or too much planning. There are two cars in our driveway, a third if you count our ‘72 VW Beetle, and the kids have a playset in the backyard they can climb and swing on any time. In other words, we are blessed.
This is the second and essential step of taking-stock. As we sit to consider our failings and short comings, we must too take a look at our successes and strengths. Not only “What have I left undone?” but also, “How have I done and created and succeeded? How have I experienced the blessings of God in this world already?”. This second step transforms our resolutions and Lenten intentions from prayers of lament into prayers of thanksgiving and hopefulness. Hopefulness flows not from naïveté but from experience: we know we can be successful reforming our lives because we have experienced the transforming power of God in the past. It’s faith rooted in evidence from our own lives.
Sure, there is plenty I would commit to changing if I had any faith in resolutions. I’m far from perfect and our life has room for reform. But I’m also contented and confident in the work we already do together. Glennon Doyle Melton posted a great reflection on her Momastery blog for New Year’s (http://momastery.com/blog/ “Best New Year’s Ever”). This is my favorite line:
“And I don’t want to be a BETTER ME in 2016. Screw that. I don’t want to chase after some imaginary more fabulous version of myself. I AM what the people I love need. I already AM. And when we are always BECOMING we have no room to BE. So I’m done striving. I’m fine, thanks. I’m showing up to love my people and you and the world this year JUST AS I AM.”
How do we make a commitment to be better by being more fully who we already are? How do we open ourselves to transformation by first giving thanks for being transformed?
I hope this New Year’s you don’t set yourself up for disappointment and shame. Instead, I hope you set yourself up for celebration and thanksgiving.
Here is the meal we shared on New Year’s. It’s not fancy and I don’t have recipes to share. We had black eyed peas, collard greens, homemade macaroni and cheese, and mettwurst. Okay, I know mettwurst isn’t traditional Southern fair, but it is pork. Derek, my husband, is from Huntington WV where Cavalier hotdogs are made. Someday I’ll write a whole post about the world of Huntington hotdog culture. For now, understand that they are the best dogs on the planet. My MIL gave us several packs of their hotdogs and mettwurst and they seemed perfect for the occasion.