Do you want to know the secret to a good New Year’s resolution?
It has to be observable and measurable.
Take it from a resolution veteran: “I’m going to work out more” doesn’t cut it. You need to say that you are going to work out this many times a week, at this place, and going to do these exercises. And then you need to have a little chart or a space in your planner where you check off your workouts.
I’ve learned all this from experience. Here are some of my past resolutions that worked:
Run 150 times this year, and at least 12 times each month.
Do crunches three times a week.
Read through the entire Bible, using x daily Bible plan.
The idea behind all this objective doing is the hope that, if you do something long enough, you’ll be something. I didn’t resolve to exercise out of my love for bodily movement; I did it so that I would be in shape. (Is this too obvious? Bear with me; I’m going somewhere with it.) I want to do my Bible reading so that I will be closer to God.
In 2010, I went for broke in the “doing” department. Not only did I want to read the Bible through, I wanted to blog my responses. It took about an hour each day, because even though I am a fast reader, my blogs were generally not short. However, since this goal was public, my pride propelled me to follow through with it. And so I did. Every day, for 365 days, a blog post went up. A couple of times throughout the year, I traveled to a place where I wouldn’t have internet access, so I wrote my blogs ahead of time and scheduled them to post. I only got really sick once (a blasted stomach virus during a youth trip), but I still posted while my head was spinning and my stomach was churning.
That was the year of the earthquake in Haiti, and I decided to fast and pray about that. Fueled by the experience, I instituted a personal weekly fast for much of that spring (I realize that I’m not supposed to tell you that, and that I’m probably cashing in my reward, but I believe that the bigger point warrants it).
The bottom line, is that I did spiritual disciplines that year. I did them. If doing something for 14, or 21, days is supposed to make it a lifelong habit, then what is doing something for 365 days? I figured I had done everything in my power to force regular Bible reading into my life. And so, in 2011, I wanted more. I didn’t want to be the person who simply did her Bible reading, who clawed her way through it, through rain or shine, come hell or high water. Instead, I wanted to be the person who thirsted for God, who spent time with Him out of pure desire and need, not because she had a checklist to complete.
And so that was my central resolution in 2011: to thirst for God.
You may notice that, according to my rules, that resolution stinks. It’s not objective; it’s not measurable. In fact, as I found in 2010, it’s not even possible to do myself. If it were possible, I would have achieved it in 2010, but in January of 2011, I found myself adrift without my Bible reading scheme, and able to go a week without reading! Some good that whole year did!
My resolution, I realized was really a request. It was a request for God to transform me, to make me thirst for Him. All I could do was to keep asking.
The number of entries in my prayer journal is a reliable indicator of the number of days I spent purposeful time with God. When I look in it for 2011, I see the following: January was mediocre. February was spotty. March was pretty bleak. April was looking to be the worst month so far…until the 27th. From April 27 to June 1, I didn’t miss a single day. And after that, I was very steady until the end of the year. What’s more, my entries went from choppy lists to passionate paragraphs, where I poured out my heart to God.
I did not do that.
I tried just as hard from January to April as I did from the end of April on. And my trying got me nowhere. Finally, God just answered me. He answered me through one friend, who gave me a great idea on reading through the New Testament…at the same time that another friend started a wonderful study on grace for the women of our church…at the same time that I was reading an amazing book that had sat, unread, on my shelf for over ten years. The confluence of these factors struck the match in my soul. And it has kept burning until now, well past the end of my New Testament reading, past the end of the grace study, past the end of the book. Through this experience, I have seen the glory of God in the land of the living. I have seen how He can transform my soul to make me be the person I want to be, apart from simply doing the things I want to do.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I completely affirm the value of disciplines. But every good discussion of spiritual discipline (and I’ve read a few) will emphasize that it is not the disciplines themselves that bring you to God, but it is God’s Spirit working within you.
And so this year, my “New Year’s resolution” is simply another request for God. Make no mistake, I do have a few “measurable” ones, centering around justice and hospitality, but my “big” one is completely in God’s court:
I want to live a life of love.
Over the past six months, I have had recurring thoughts about the “weapons of this world.” In 2 Corinthians 10:4, Paul tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” That verse has really taken root in my imagination, and I have mulled it over often. What weapons do we fight with? What has the divine power to demolish strongholds? I have come to believe that the only “weapon” that fits that description is love. Only love can transform a person’s soul. Everything else amounts to coercion.
This idea has interesting ramifications in the area of international conflict, and I do admit an almost unhealthy interest in the debate between pacifism and just war theory. But the reality is, I never have been, nor ever will be, a soldier, so there’s a degree to which that debate is irrelevant to my life. But…that doesn’t mean I don’t use the weapons of the world. How many times in relationships am I tempted to fight fire with fire? How many times do I use the verbal violence of harsh words in order to force my kids, or others, into line? The weapons of this world, I have come to theorize, are the things that try to force external behaviors in an attempt to control others. Harsh words, yelling, biting remarks, passive-aggressiveness, the silent treatment: these are all weapons of the world.
This year, I want to lay my weapons down.
As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher (whether college or Sunday school), I want to use love as my only weapon.
Maybe that’s impossible. Maybe it’s stupid. Maybe it’s based on a misinterpretation of Scripture. I really don’t know.
But I want to find out.
One thing I know is that I can not live a life of love on my own. I get irritable; I get frustrated; I am insufferable when I’m tired or sick. I’m horrible at multi-tasking and thus, resent interruptions of my work. I get easily stressed and am snappy as a result. I have so many flaws that would prevent love from flowing out of me, and I have a handy arsenal of verbal weapons, ever ready at my disposal. To instead choose peace and love every time I’m tempted to reach for a verbal spear will require nothing short of divine intervention.
But I want to live a life of love, as God’s dearly loved child, because I want to be a follower of Christ And I want to be a full, practicing citizen in the kingdom of God. And I want to be a living sacrifice, bringing glory to God. I want to be a vessel through which His Spirit flows.
I want to be all those things, and without His Spirit actively accomplishing His purposes in me, there is no amount of discipline on my part that can achieve those goals. In that way, my New Year’s resolution is really a prayer of helplessness. Instead of relying on a checklist to make me into the person I want to be, I’m throwing all my hope behind the Creator Himself.
May He do great things in 2012 for all of us. May He transform us all into the people we were designed to be.
What do you want to do this year? Or, more importantly, who do you want to be this life?