A new year always marks a new beginning, a rare moment of looking forward, looking back, looking within. For a couple days – until we go back to work at least – the human community at large takes a collective introspective moment to reflect on life. We get to think about our last year, about our dreams for the future, about how life is going up to this point. We tune in to the deeper stuff of life. It’s like we all take… inhale… one deep breath together… ahh…
And what do we do with this reflection? Culturally we really have one option: form resolutions for the New Year ahead. The resolution frenzy is well under way. You may have some yourself. All this introspective soul searching about our dreams and desires gets parceled up into bite sized changeable chunks that we then resolve to throw our best efforts at for a year.
And in this way resolutions are an odd thing. They’re actually pretty limiting. You can only resolve to change something in your power. I’m not dogging this. But the danger is that we reflect on our lives exclusively in terms of what we can control. And what if what you want changed in your life is actually beyond your control? Maybe you want to get married. Maybe you want your chronic pain to go away. Maybe you want your spouse to love you more. Or you want a more fulfilling job. Maybe you want world hunger to end. Okay, so you can play a part in some of this change. But not all of life is in your hands. And that’s the hardest stuff of life. What do we do with this?
I know we understand a resolution as being a function of our will, a personal commitment we make. Resolution, you may remember, is also “…the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out,” according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary. All great stories are built on this dramatic tension. And its this tension we as the reader yearn to have resolved for the main character.
Take movies as an example. We as the audience get to watch the life of another as it plunges deep into some unnerving plot. A love story is underfoot. Or a war. Maybe a tragedy engulfs the main character. Or against all odds he pursues a personal dream. And we with him or her or them get further and further into the anxiety of the story. Hope competes with fear in the final moment of climax. And then… and then… resolution comes. She gets the man. The hero spills his blood to defeat evil. His life endeavor is met with fulfillment. We cry, we laugh, we sigh. That’s what we love most about movies, about stories. We get the resolution at the end.
Your life is a story too. You live in dramatic tension. You know this already, I’m sure. As Bishop N.T. Wright has said, we are all caught up “…in a story in search of an ending.” I love that. The struggles, the dreams, the desires, the longings we all carry within us are searching for an ending. This is includes all that stuff that may be out of our control. We all long for resolution as much as we commit to it. We all want to change as much as we work to change. In fact, the desire precedes the discipline. It must. That’s not rocket science folks. But most of us blow passed the longing behind our discipline in 0.8 seconds flat. And so our hearts get minimized into personally changeable goals.
So I’ve got a suggestion for you, for this year, a resolution to put on the list. How about spending this year getting more in tune with your hearts desires, your dreams, your hopes as much as you discipline yourself to try and change your life. Do something with the stuff out of your control. Pause longer in the longing. Give your heart a voice. Maybe you make this your prayer life.
I’ll leave you with a resolution I found written by the great Puritan Theologian, Jonathan Edwards. This one’s big enough to live in.
Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, that is, with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything and every circumstance.