It is around this time of the year that we start turning to hopes for the new year, trying to figure out who we want to be, what we want to do, where we want to go, and what changes we have to make in our lives to get there (or perhaps, the answers to these questions are the changes we are making in our lives).
The average January 1 membership of any gym or fitness facility will confirm that most of our resolutions are fitness-based. But the average February 1 membership of any gym or fitness facility confirms that our best fitness-based resolutions tend not to last. This is true also for weight-loss groups, diet systems, and smoking-cessation programs. It is not because these things are hard that we are so quick to give up; it is because the pay-out is so low and the maintenance so high - they require a constant fighting against ourselves, and we were not made for war. These are resolutions that we must labor to sustain, with so little in return, and so, we give up.
Many others make resolutions centered on relationships - healing broken relationships, getting out of bad ones, starting new ones, finding "the" one. These, too, are no good, precisely because they do not depend solely on us. Healing broken relationships takes all parties, and we cannot resolve for the other that they will seek the same healing. Getting out of bad relationships requires another to let us go, and there's no guarantee that they will. Starting new relationships means finding others who are also seeking new relationships, and they simply may not be. Finding "the" one requires that you are also "the" one being sought, and maybe he/she resolved this new year to faithfully enjoy his/her singleness. Resolutions in relationships sound great on paper, but they don't depend on us; they depend on much more. They can therefore be frustrating, and often ultimately go unfulfilled.
Still many others make administrative resolutions, or those that are discipline-based - balancing checkbooks, getting out of debt, living within their means, reading the Bible, going to church, transitioning to a new job, buying a new car, etc. These are also great goals, but not really resolutions - they don't solve anything. They don't change anything. They are, essentially, to-do lists for the new year, and they hang heavy over our heads. Does that mean I am actively discouraging people from resolving to read their Bibles? Yes. If your resolution is to read your Bible just because you probably ought to read it, please don't. You will one day look at that book and say you read it, know nothing about it, and can't remember a darned thing. Not only that, but you will not be fundamentally changed just by reading it; you will only have a trophy for Christian participation, and barely that. Do not use your resolutions to make to-do lists. They are the illusion of accomplishment, and nothing more. (Now, some of these aforementioned resolutions can be done well, in the spirit of heart and not in the burden of to-do lists, in which case, go for it.)
And many more make resolutions to act differently in some fundamental way - to complain less, rejoice more, be more friendly, be more gracious, be more grateful, be more generous, whatever. These are perhaps the most troublesome resolutions of all, for they are the most prone to fail. Why? Because when we resolve simply to do different, we are constantly discouraged by the self that we see in the mirror. We are who we are, and without a fundamental shift in our orientation, whatever we manage to do toward these goals is difficult, contrived, and empty. It's fake. The world sees through our fakeness, and so do we, and it is not long before we feel like we've lost something of ourselves, which comes back to us seven-fold, just like demons to an empty house.
Now that we've ruled out the big four, the question remains: if we want to get in on the resolution-making fun of the new year, what's left? What do we resolve for 2017?
Make resolutions for your heart.
Resolve things that are going to shape you. Resolve things that are going to grow you. Resolve things that are going to penetrate deep to the very core of your being and make a real, lasting change in the way that you live and love in this world.
Resolutions for the heart need not be sustained like body-centered goals; resolutions for the heart sustain us. Resolutions for the heart do not depend on others to be fulfilled; they fulfill us, and they draw others in. Resolutions for the heart do not rely on to-do lists, on boxes that can be checked; there is nothing to do, only to be. Resolutions for the heart are not some facade we build, not some contrived, empty existence; they run deep to a solid foundation of the very spirit of God within us.
Wait, wait, wait - this sounds really hard and abstract. And, well, uh...touchy-feely or something. It doesn't have to be. Resolutions for the heart can be really practical, seemingly simple, even. They can look a lot like some of these other resolutions, or they can look entirely different. They can be the sorts of things that become easier with time (FYI - none of the above become easier with time; they all become more and more difficult. But resolutions for the heart become easier because they succeed at fundamentally changing you in ways that you desire). Tomorrow, I will give a few real examples of how this looks. For today, just let this set your wheels turning.
Stop asking what you want to do in the new year, where you want to go. Ask yourself, instead, how you want to grow, how you'd like to change, how you'd liked to be shaped. That will help you figure out what resolutions to make for your heart to help you do just that.