new year's resolutions are a spiritual discipline

it seems like everybody i have talked to and everything i have read this last week is saying in unison that new year’s resolutions are a thing of the past.  (unless you are selling gym memberships) even my nephew who is only 10 thinks that they are dumb and pointless.  when did new year’s resolutions become quaint and beneath us?  i mean when 10 year olds are complaining that things are old, then i think the pendulum has swung about as far as it can go.  if that is the case, then this might be the right year to get on board as the pendulum swings back to center.  this might be the year to actually bring the new year’s resolution back. You see, i think that new year’s resolutions are not only a good, but are actually vital to our personal and spiritual development.

now i get why the nay sayers are disgruntled.  i mean, how many years in a row can i try to lose the same 10 pounds.  (that is mine, but i am sure that you have some resolution that has topped your list every year.)  it gets old that year after year i find myself trying to be some better version of who i am, only to sputter out and give up in a matter of weeks.

don’t you wonder why this is the case?  why every year we feel the need to paint a more pleasing picture of who we could be and develop a plan to live it out?  there is some part of us that longs for a better version of ourselves.  and at the same time there is this other law at work with in us that seems to hold us back.  maybe the issue is not one of will power, but of something deeper.

i wonder if this battle over our will is something similar to what paul shares about in romans 7.  “i do not understand what i do.  for what i want to do i do not do, but what i hate to do.” (romans 7:15)

on a surface, this is my never ending battle with food.  seriously, how hard is it to lose 10 pounds.  i know exactly what i need to do, but not matter how much i know in my head, 7 / 11 calls to me and in a matter of weeks the battle is lost.  the thing i want to do i can not do.  now, for this example i have chosen food, but all of us have one or two things in our lives that we are continually trying to shake or to improve on so that we can become the best version of our selves.

what if the desire to have new year’s resolutions and the failure to complete them were actually a battle of the spirit, not of the will?  as we grow in our walk with jesus, he continues to sanctify us and refine us.  and as he does, he highlights the person he has created us to be and he reveals areas in our lives that we need fixing up.  with out even being aware of it, we have this inner desire to live into the person we were created to be.

every january 1st there is an inner stirring that happens among most people.  whether we give in or we fight it, we can not help but reflect on this last year and dream about who we might become in the new year.  with out even realizing it we are participating in spiritual disciplines.  we are reflecting on the past to see what went well, and what went wrong, and how we were not satisfied with the person we are becoming.  and in response to this reflection we come up with a list, a way to improve the person we are.  and when we are done we have a beautiful picture in front of us, a picture made up with a list of things we want to do or stop doing.  this discipline should not be thrown out.  what needs to be thrown out is our 100% reliance on will power to accomplish them.

like paul in romans 7, we have to own up to the fact that what we want to do we don’t do, and what we don’t want to do we do do.  there is a battle between our flesh and spirit.  will power alone can not solve a spiritual battle.  in this chapter of romans paul finally throws his hands up in surrender and says, “who will rescue me from this body of death? thanks be to god, who delivers me through jesus christ our lord!”

what a different sort of year we would have if we would allow our resolutions to come under the grace and redemption of jesus.  a simple resolution like losing 10 pounds becomes the beginning of reflecting on my brokenness.  what hole if food filling?  why do i eat when i am board?  why do i even care what i weigh? as i examine my resolutions through the lens of scripture illuminated by the holy spirit, i get to understand the actual motivations and issues behind the resolution.  and in this discipline of reflection god actually reveals, heals, and transforms me.  and a strange thing happens, my flesh is no longer king.  the holy spirit is empowered and begins to take ground in this flesh and spirit tug-o-war.

this process is valuable no matter what resolutions are on our annual list.  it is actually good news when we realize that we have a better picture of who we are inside us.  when we allow jesus to examine this picture and tell us what is from him and what isn’t from him, we can move forward in becoming the person god has created us to be.  who knew that our little list of resolutions are actually the beginning part of the process of wholeness and healing.

maybe it is time to bring new year’s resolutions back.  it is a gift that god has planted a picture inside of all of us, a picture of what a whole version of our self could be.  if you are like me, you are tired of never living into this picture.  and year after year of failing to be that guy can be disheartening.   but that is because we have allowed will power to be the agent of change.

but, will power is not the agent of change in a person.  we will always do what we want to do.  we need to realize that there are two competing voices telling us what to do and who to be.  the trick is giving our time, energy, to the voice who actually has the power to enact real change in our lives.  may this year we actually lean into our resolutions, use them as spiritual disciplines and allow space for jesus to heal, redeem, and transform our lives.

who will save me from this body of death?  thanks be to god, who delivers me through jesus christ our lord!