If you’re over 15, have a pulse and don’t live in a cave, chances are you have made a New Year’s resolution or two…or 100.
Hey, we’ve all been there, and if we’re honest, there is always something about ourselves we can change, especially if we listen to today’s goal-obsessed, one-up culture. We’ve all listened to those voices, so this is not a time of shame or judgment, nor is it a free pass. It’s simply a statement about a cultural ritual that is encouraged and heralded.
Now, don’t misunderstand, the concept behind New Year’s resolutions isn’t necessarily bad, but it can—and does—often go awry. Rather than encourage us to examine ourselves in a healthy way and identify an area on which to work, it guilts us into nitpicking everything about ourselves. Instead of giving us an opportunity to set a reasonable timeline to achieve our goals, it pressures us into getting them done yesterday. What can be used to inspire us turns into a shame-laden pursuit of unrealistic results, which ultimately leaves us discouraged if—and when—we fail.
Plus, even if we manage to check off a resolution or two, it’s usually never enough. We might succeed in spending less time on social media, but we shame ourselves because we didn’t rid ourselves of it completely or we filled the time with another futile activity. Perhaps we got the raise or lost the weight, but was it enough? Couldn’t we have done more? In comes the negative self-talk and comparisons.
Then there’s the guilt and shame that comes when we fail to even come within the same time zone of our resolutions. Rather than eat clean, we ate more things fried, supersized and covered in neon orange “cheese” dust. Instead of going skydiving, we sat at home and watched Netflix. What started as a good intention to read 50 books in a year turned into a guiltfest of struggling to get through one.
Whoever you are and however successful you may be at realizing your resolutions, none of us can deny the fact that we are human and we can and will fail, mess up and/or forget. Take that truth and throw in society’s outrageous expectations and qualifications for a “good” life, and we are destined for disaster—either mentally, physically, socially, financially, vocationally, spiritually, a combination or all of the above.
But, friend, let me tell you something you need to hear and is the absolute truth: it doesn’t have to be this way. Let me repeat that for those in the back: it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t need to set unrealistic goals at the beginning of the year, only to crash and burn come January 4th. You don’t need to grit your teeth, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and shame yourself into lasting just one more day.
This is not to say you’re perfect, you have no need to grow and there’s nothing about you which you need to change. What it is saying is jump off the world’s Shame-O-Rama hamster wheel and open your eyes. Let go of your “shoulds” because they’re not helpful and they’re most likely lies society dressed up to look like self-improvement (also known as self-care or self-help, emphasis on the self).
Let go of your "shoulds" because they're not helpful and they're most likely lies society dressed up to look like self-improvement (also known as self-care or self-help, emphasis on the self).
You are not perfect, you do need to change and there are things about yourself that you can improve upon, but it’s all in how you go about it and why. It all boils down to the heart.
The things you need to change, do they come from a place of honest evaluation and desire to be a better person or out of a need to please someone else? Do you want to try new things out of genuine curiosity and an adventurous spirit or because our world convinced you it’s what will finally fill the aching void inside of you? When you dive head first into another resolution, on whose strength do you rely? Is it solely up to you to fix every single flaw you have? How can a broken record fix itself?
You will never run out of “if I do this, then I’ll be happy” schemes, nor will you brush the surface of true happiness while you naively try to do it anyway.
Depressed yet? Good. What you’re feeling is called discontentment, and it’s there for a reason.
We all feel it: this deep, raw longing for something bigger and greater. Confirmation that what you are doing matters and is worth not just your time and money, but your life. Confidence that even if you mess up or things don’t go as planned, it’s all for a reason and will work out in the end. Peace. Joy. Contentment. Unwavering. Impenetrable. Everlasting. We all know it, but sadly, only a minority of us will allow ourselves to see the answer.
The answer is not a what but a Who, and that Who would be Jesus.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a sham to sell you some religion or barrage you with a bunch of throw pillow phrases. It’s to lay out the truth before you in a way you may not have previously heard.
This is the simple, straightforward, absolute truth: Nothing worth living for can be found outside God, for He is the source of love, joy, peace and everything good (Matthew 4:4, James 1:17; see also the book of Ecclesiastes). He is the Light of the world and only His light will brighten your soul (John 8:12, 12:46). He will not guarantee a promotion at work or a smaller waistline, because well, for one, those things don’t matter to Him and secondly, He will prove they don’t matter to you either (1 Samuel 16:7, Isaiah 55:8-9). Not when you set your eyes on Him and give Him your everything (Matthew 4:4, cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Philippians 1:21).
When you finally have a clear perspective, New Year’s resolutions will finally resemble the rubbish they are and will be replaced with new aspirations (Philippians 3:8). Ones you can never reach on your own, but ones you will never need to either.
When you give your heart to God and live for Him, He will lovingly help you develop characteristics, goals and values for which you will long to possess and of whose lifelong pursuit will bring you unimaginable joy (Ezekiel 36:26-27, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).
Characteristics like unshakable peace, like that of Jesus when He faced those who would ultimately send Him to be crucified on the Cross (see John 18:1-19:27), and impartial love, just as Jesus extended to outcast paralytics, cruel Roman rulers, unsavory prostitutes and rigid religious leaders alike (John 3:1-21; 4:1-30, 46-54; 5:1-17).
The place where your heart meets God's grace is where all strivings and shame cease.
Goals such as living for an eternal Kingdom, that which motivated Jesus to endure persecution and hate (Luke 22:39-46, John 15:18-16:4), or caring for the least of us, exactly like Jesus and His early followers did for orphans, lepers and widows (Luke 5:12-16, 7:11-17).
Values like treasuring every human life, just as Jesus embodied when He died on the cross for our sins so that anyone who believes in Him would never see death (John 3:16-18, 5:24, 6:40, 8:12), or equality, much like Jesus demonstrated when He came to save people of all ethnicities, languages and socioeconomic backgrounds (Mark 2:17; Luke 9:48, 19:10; Romans 1:16).
These are but a glimpse of the changes we can make—and see—in ourselves when we turn our lives over to God and allow Him to shape us.
The place where your heart meets God’s grace is where all strivings and shame cease. The transformation will not be automatic, it will be lifelong (2 Corinthians 3:18). Not all the effects will be immediate, some will be gradual (1 John 3:2-3). The ultimate reward will not come in this lifetime, but we will get tastes of it in the meantime (John 14:1-4, 2 Timothy 4:8, 1 Peter 1:3-4). Your life will not always be easy and free of trials, but it will be full of meaning and joy, absolute and lasting (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
God promises many things to those who give Him their all—peace, love, joy, strength, wisdom, etc.—but He does not promise their attainment to be easy (John 14:27, 16:33; Philippians 4:13; 1 John 4:19). You will still have to put forth effort and be open to change so that you can better resemble Him, but you will never have to do it alone or on your own strength (Deuteronomy 31:6, Isaiah 41:10).
You’re off the hamster wheel, meaning there is room for more than just you. The pressure is off and the finish line fixed. All you need to do to get started is finally jump off the wheel and grab the hand of the only One who’s worth your life.
Jesus already gave up His life for you, the least you can do is live yours for Him.
What will your decision be this year? A year spent striving on the world’s hamster wheel, knowing you will ultimately fall short, or a lifetime spent with God Almighty as you pursue His peace, love and joy? Hamsters are cute and all, but they’ve got nothing on Jesus. Don’t take my word for it though, find out for yourself.
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.