There is something about a new year with its ambitious resolutions, exuberant plans, and fresh start folly that leaves me feeling flat instead of fiery. It just feels exhausting to think about all the bettering that becomes gospel at the start of a new year. Self-improvement that encompasses everything from eating and exercise to ordering priorities and organizing closets. Am I the only one who feels like a hero just for taking a shower?
And, sharing this feels like heresy. After all, wanting to improve any area of our lives is commendable. Mercy is nothing but a do-over and a fresh start, and I know that I am nothing without God’s great mercy. Therefore, who am I to diminish the pursuit of betterment that is so easy to cling to when so often life feels messy and ordinary? Besides reconciling that becoming a motivational writer is probably something I should leave out of my career aspirations; I realize how much more comfortable I am with ordinariness.
One of the things that strikes me about the life of Jesus is how plain it was, from his birth in a manger all the way to the crude suffering of his death alongside commoners and criminals. Yet, is there anyone more remarkable who has walked this earth? Is there anyone who has left a greater legacy? He was a king but never had a worthy crown. He could perform the miracles of a great showman yet chose to act with quiet humility and never for his own glory. He didn’t climb the ladder of success. He bent down and washed the feet of his disciples. He taught us that the ordinary may be plain but that doesn’t mean it isn’t purposeful.
Every January we are inundated with messages of losing weight to prepare our bodies for summer as if it’s as complicated as training for an Olympic sport instead of simply shedding coats and slipping on shorts. To be considered “ready” we are encouraged to lose weight, pump iron, and color ourselves caramel.
The message is clear. The preparation is all-important. Where you are now is clearly not good enough. You aren’t worthy of summer vacay unless, until, all that urgent striving sculpts you into the picturesque airbrushed model on the magazine cover who hasn’t eaten in three years and works out five hours a day.
I don’t know if it’s more demoralizing or depraved, but many of us buy into this if-then mentality. We do it in an array of scenarios: organizing our house before we can host friends, getting the promotion before we can pride ourselves on a job well done, or securing the relationship before we cement our self-worth. The perception that our arrival is more important than our pursuit is most damaging in our relationships with God. We often think where we are in our spiritual journey defines how much we please him, how much he loves us, and how worthy we are of his mercy. Read more
I can’t help but shake that feeling a new year brings that I’m supposed to “do better,” “improve,” or “make it count.” Bold directives that remind me of the anxious anticipation of waiting for my turn in a grade school relay race. Messages that don’t make me want to run as much as they make me want to run away.
In these heady days of a new year, I feel uber-aware of every action, or worse, every inaction. It’s a similar feeling to the relief of confession. I love the clean slate but I also want to lock myself in the house or duct tape my mouth closed so I won’t risk sinning again. Once we delve into the grit and grind of life, both a new year and a clean soul can easily tarnish like the best of intentions.
Only, I’m not a new person despite the change on the calendar. I sat down to work and immediately googled Lab Rescues of Florida. I am not planning on getting another dog in 2021, but somehow the urge to read the personality traits and health history of every adoptable dog was a pressing priority. Likewise, while I intended to work at my desk with ergonomically correct posture this year, I slouched on the couch hovering over the keyboard, spine twisted like a buttery breadstick. By mid-afternoon, I passed my water cup in lieu of the curdle of reheated coffee. None of it felt very ‘new.’
Every year, each family member picks a word to guide or inspire them for the next 365 days. (Last year, my word was brave. I learned that was like praying for patience and I spent the year facing all kinds of situations that terrified me.) When my husband asked me about my word for this year, I was hesitant. We debated the merits of the words “freedom,” and “embrace.” I was afraid if I chose “freedom,” I would have a slew of rescue dogs living with me by the year’s end. Read more
All of the hoopla of a new year — a new decade can feel overwhelming like the throngs of crowds who enthusiastically greet it in celebration when the clock strikes midnight. This year I slept right through it. Partly because it makes more sense to start anew with a proper night’s sleep and mostly because I am just not that into the hype of a new year. I’m not interested in goal-setting or resolutions or crushing it (whatever “it” may be.) It’s not because I’m complacent or lack ambition or betterment. It’s just that for me, resolutions never seem to be the way to affect genuine life change.
By nature, I was always a rules person. I played by the rules. I made countless rules. I was disciplined (and neurotic) enough to think the criteria I set for my life was paramount to achieving success or at least to maintaining order.
Not in the span of a day or even a year, but in incremental shifts and small seemingly insignificant moments, I realized that however well-intentioned my resolutions were, they were feeding a mindset of unworthiness. Instead, I began to consider the threshold of unconditional love that is the basis of Christianity. I tried to wrap my head around the enormous truth of being loved right where we are and I started to question the motivations that ruled me. I came to know mercy in a meaningful way. I didn’t use it as a crutch to allow myself to do whatever I pleased. It wasn’t an invitation to complacency. It was motivation to stop putting emphasis on the worldly and pay more attention to the worthwhile. It was permission to let go of the perfect and find grace in imperfection. It was possibilities made endless through the merits of forgiveness, the boundless pursuit of compassion, and the insurmountable power of love.