Reflections and Resolutions

I have an up-and-down relationship with New Year’s resolutions. Starting a number of years ago I began creating for myself concrete, manageable resolutions at the end of each year. Some of these have worked out well: a few years ago, at the behest of my dentist, I resolved to start flossing with proper regularity. Today, flossing has become a regular part of my dental care for which both my dentist and my gums are thankful. Other resolutions have poorly. Last year, for example, I resolved to place my dirty clothes directly in the hamper, skipping their customary waypoint on the floor. Much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, this resolution did not go nearly as well and within a month or two I had fully reverted to my original habits.

Despite the experienced inconsistency of my previous resolutions, I still believe that New Year’s resolutions are important. I think it’s important to set time aside to reflect on one’s life, to seek concrete areas of potential improvement. More than simply a cultural phenomenon, I believe that this cycle of reflection and resolution is integral to a Christian life, too. Certainly reflection and resolution to change should not be limited to December 31st, but the process itself is tied deeply to what I believe we are called to do as Christians. God calls us to examine our lives, to look at our actions through a critical lens, sussing out the places where we fall short of God’s call for each of us. God calls us to confess these shortcomings, to ourselves and to God, to turn away from all that separates us from who we are called to be. There are, however, ways in which God’s call is far more radical than customary seasonal practice. Perhaps the largest divergence lies in the scope of the resolutions we are called to make. Any list you might read about how to craft good New Year’s resolutions suggests setting realistic, reasonable suggestions. If, for example, one resolves to become more fit, the “experts” suggest setting a reasonable goal, such as going to the gym twice a week, rather than an “ideal” goal of, say, going five times a week. I have always prided myself in the fact that my New Year’s resolutions are eminently reachable. Even when I fall short, I still feel like I’ve failed at something I really could have accomplished. While others make grand promises to themselves, I have gleefully pursued a moderate road. God’s call, however, spurns such moderation. God’s call refuses to let us remain content in an approximation of the ideal. God says “close enough” is never “good enough”. God’s call is not reasonable or rational, but it is just and it is holy.

Here’s the good bit: God knows we will fall short. God knows that in all our human imperfection we will not reach the goals God sets for us this year; God forgives us anyway. This does not, however, keep God from presenting us improbable resolutions. God sets before us a resolution of swords turned to plowshares, of spears to pruning hooks. God sets before us a resolution that says we are not to rest until all have enough, and all have a place. In all likelihood, just as we did last year, we will fall short of this lofty calling. We should never, however, forget to what we are called. As soon as we replace these goals with rough approximations, as soon as we convince ourselves that “close enough” is “good enough”, we commit a sin far graver than simply falling short of these goals.

And so, this year, I dare you to dream big with me. I dare you to set resolutions so hopelessly idealistic you are all but doomed to failure from the start. I dare you to reject cultural suggestions that say you should keep your resolutions well within the boundaries of what you feel able to accomplish. Listen for what God is calling you to do in your life, and resolve to do just that. You will fail. I will fail. But perhaps, in all our collective failure, we will come just a little closer to the Kingdom.

Ben Perry is a third year seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He is a member of Bedford Presbyterian Church and under the care of Hudson River Presbytery.

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