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Well, interwebs – it’s happening again. We’re sauntered into a new year and we’re bringing a veritable blitzkrieg of “good” advice with us. The band is back together, the reunion tour in full swing, and the circle-pit of self-improvement is already raging. As I watch my newsfeed cascade with endless tips and tricks for a rewarding new year, I couldn’t help but wrestle with what I think is a pretty sobering question:
“Will any of this ever truly satisfy?”
Have you ever felt that way? Don’t misunderstand me – I am all for mastery, self-improvement, discipline and betterment. I am stubbornly committed to always learning new skills and sharpening old ones. What I know for certain though – is that these pursuits are illusory at best.
For most of us, I think the gear that drive much of our behavior is a desire to be free – free from debt, our current weight, an addiction, our trajectory in life, or countless other subjugations. But the humbling truth is that there isn’t a pill, kit, plan, or blueprint that will ultimately satisfy. Behavior modification never leads to real freedom.
If you and I diligently follow “These Forty-Seven Easy Steps,” for the rest of our lives, we may live longer, even more engaging lives, but at the heart level these checklists will always disappoint. We will fall short – and sometimes to an embarrassing degree. We will struggle and fail. We will hit the snooze button. We will skip leg day. We will eat what we swore we wouldn’t. We will drift unsuspectingly into patterns we thought we had long conquered.
And the brutal cycle continues.
I think comedian Joey Adams understood this tension well when he wrote:
“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.”
I can rock a new hairdo in 2015, but underneath that luscious mane it will still be me. I can commit to eating only locally-grown, skinny-jean approved vegetables, watching exclusively foreign documentaries, or always sit with aristocratic posture – but these regimens simply cannot and will not transform the heart. Precise methodology may nudge us in good and right directions – but we must know that our resolutions often look merely to the symptoms while blithely ignoring the disease.
In some cases we may even succeed for a long while, which can sometimes be even more destructive than early failure. I know for me that as I flourish, I am tempted to believe that my value is found in what I accomplish rather than who I am. As that distortion takes root, it becomes increasingly difficult not to see others through that same murky lens as well. Relationships can be reduced, in our hearts, to the mere measurement of achievements and successes.
This reveals a truth that I think many of us know all too well:
“Sometimes the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”
When our attempts at improvement fall short – we will come face to face with the reality that we still carry the same worries and fears, the same sadness, burdens, and hardships we did before.
Because what we need are not new things – but a new life.
G.K. Chesterton put it far better than I ever could:
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The thing that is truly heartbreaking for me is that most New Year’s resolutions are based on a lie:
“If I lose this weight – then I’ll be truly happy”
“If I make this much money – then I’ll finally be satisfied”
“If I master this one skill – then I’ll be successful”
“If I find that one person – I’ll finally feel complete”
“If I could just have that job – I’ll really be at peace”
Deep down I think that each of us is aware that these statements aren’t really true, but we tend to white-knuckle our lists and resolutions and give it the ‘ol college try on more time.
I’d like to propose that, instead of looking to accomplishments for significance, instead of allowing skillsets to command our identity, and instead of gripping tightly to past successes or allowing ourselves to be gripped by past failure – we commit to the following this next year:
-To be truly honest with yourself, even when it hurts.
-To allow yourself to be really known by others.
-To show grace toward failures, even (and especially) your own.
-To hit the “pause” button every once in a while.
-To keep getting back up.
-To see and engage beauty in common, ordinary places.
So I entreat you, beloved, to pursue the highest heights and grapple with the deepest depths. Dream massive dreams and listen to the stillness. Pursue interests, seek improvement, explore new arenas – and do so with the assurance that all you need or could ever need you have in Christ. He is the sum and substance of all of God’s promises. The invitation isn’t first – start doing what’s right, moral, doctrinal – but rather, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”
May we walk boldly into this next chapter together, doing so with the scandalous knowledge of a God who not only declares you justified, but who invites you as children to rest in His mercies.
“A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you.”
– Ezekiel 36:26