Over the years, I’ve become pretty ambivalent about making New Years resolutions. On the one hand, the custom seems like a great opportunity for a fresh start—an annual reminder that past isn’t always prologue. Tomorrow’s chapter is still unwritten, right? On the other hand, the list of the self-improvements I’m resolved to make weigh on me, further burdening a body already carrying around the consequences of one too many (read: hundreds of) Christmas cookies. The hope of a new beginning seems increasingly overshadowed by the fear that this year’s resolutions will work out about as well as they did last time around. Maybe past is prologue after all. Or, maybe, we need to rethink what we keep resolving to do.
Perhaps preparing for the first worship celebration of the New Year can remind us of how upside down our resolutions really are and how we might bring them into line with what we truly believe. Looking at our lives through the lens of Christian worship, here are three broad, related categories of resolutions we can turn on their head:
Work harder. We’ve all heard that we should work smarter and not harder. How about we start by not working at all? Although worship does involve effort and, in a sense, work, worship begins in rest. A Sabbath rest reminds us that our identity and salvation are not the results of our labor. We are essentially rooted in who God is and what God has already done for us. We are loved as we are. We are already enough. What if we planned the next year out of a sense not of what we lack but of all we already have in Christ? How would that change our dreams and goals?
Imagine what’s possible. Perhaps the reason so much of what we hope for fails to become reality is that our dreams are disconnected from the path that’s led us to where we are. Christian worship is certainly shaped by the future—a prophetic sense of what should and can be. But worship is also rooted in the past, nourished by the soil of how God has provided for us all along. As we dream about the year to come, take time to remember the year that’s been. Perhaps the roads we’ve travelled, with all their twists and turns, can tell us a lot about what’s around the corner.
Start something new. Unprecedented, positive change is certainly integral to the Christian experience. It’s something we have reason to hope for and expect. But worshipping God reminds us that new life is not something we initiate. Worship is our response to God’s gracious self-giving. What if we entered the New Year less with a sense of resolve and more with an openness to respond—to listen, perceive, and discern. It’s possible that our overly fixed goals dull our senses and make us less responsive to the needs of this world, the wisdom of our communities, the mysterious guiding of God, and even our own passions and desires.
As we look toward the New Year, rather than resolving to work harder, dream bigger, and add initiatives to our already full lives, may we instead accept the invitation to rest, remember, and respond. This plan might leave us initially feeling less optimistic and determined and more open and uncertain. But if you’re like me, and given where all last year’s certainty got us, maybe a little hopeful uncertainty is just the true new beginning we need.