I’m a few days late as I flip the wall calendar from December to January. I stand at my office door and survey the scene. An exercise bike (the one I insisted my husband carry up a flight of stairs) collects dust in the corner. Last year’s empty journals, half-filled planners, and discarded daily devotionals lie in stacks on my desk.
My goals that failed to materialize line my graveyard of New Year’s Resolutions. Shoulds, woulds, and coulds are etched into the epitaphs of the ghost of New Year’s Past:
- Here lies all you failed to accomplish.
- Maybe if you’d tried harder.
- New year, same bumbling you.
- Where’s your resolve?
As we settle into a new year, maybe you also reflect on your resolutions that never lived a full and vibrant life. Maybe if you’re like me, you feel shame about it.
We set resolutions because we want to be better. (And I pray that, in all my days, I continue to grow and learn and become more of who the One who made me created me to be.) Working toward what we hope for is not a bad thing, but if we’re not careful, it’s so easy to believe the lie we’re often sold: That if we try a little harder or are a little more disciplined, we’ll achieve all our heart desires. We’ll finally be worthy.
Self-improvement is a multi-billion dollar industry because, as humans, we ache for something more. Something that will fill us with meaning, with purpose, with life. Sometimes, we think our efforts will earn us a better standing with others – and even with God. But when we place our hope in ourselves, we’re bound to be worn out and disappointed when our striving doesn’t fill the void.
As Jesus gathered the disciples, He didn’t tell them to list out their three goals and outline five actionable points to achieve them and then live a prosperous life.
Instead, He said the opposite: “Get away with me. And I’ll show you unforced rhythms of grace.”
What if, instead of using resolutions as a measuring stick for meaning, we intentionally reflect on the rhythms we integrate into the real, messy, complicated, wonderful lives we’re living?
The Message paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 puts it like this:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
As we settle into the new year, consider these questions before beating yourself up over resolutions that may have fizzled out:
- Am I trusting God’s love enough to rest?
- Am I walking and working with God – or am I working to earn favor that is freely given?
- Am I sharing my life in love with others?
- Am I, in light of Christ’s compassion, living with integrity, mercy, and generosity?
- Am I, with God’s help, folding in rhythms of the fruits of the spirit into the very fabric of my being?
Instead of beating myself up for not using my planner as much as I’d hoped, I’m taking stock of what is filling my days, my months, my very life in the first place. Instead of mourning the ways I’m convinced I’ve failed, I’m considering how I might, with God’s help, intentionally integrate a life of faith into the comings and goings of my actual days.
We may look at our graveyard of goals, but God looks at the heart.
As you reflect on what was and is to come, let this new year be a reset for your soul. Sure, set some goals if you’d like. Make a plan. None of that is bad. (I still buy a new calendar and planner every year.) But whether or not you set any resolutions, consider how you, too, might dance in the unforced rhythms of grace in the coming days.
May this prayer I wrote in my book Every Season Sacred be words to borrow as you journey through this year:
Creator God, You breathed us into being out of dirt and dust. You are not done with the forming and fashioning of who we are and who we are becoming. In You, each of us is invited into infinite possibilities for who we might become. Protect us from influences that whisper lies, distorting the divine shape of our hearts and minds, bodies and souls.
God, we know You are forever speaking into the contours and crevices of our lives. Carve mirrors into our hearts so we might examine and reflect on who and what we have allowed to form our days and our lives. When we have allowed our false selves to become hardened in the fires of life, call us back so we may return to being formed by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Soften our harsh edges, and form us into Your image, through Christ alone. Amen.