Jan 14, 2019

In Good Faith: New Year, Same Old You

In my January In Good Faith column, I check in on how your New Year's Resolutions are going. I also share my thoughts on why resolutions may conflict with a healthy understanding of God's love.

New Year, Same Old You

So, how are your New Year’s resolutions going? Have you greeted 2019 with steely resolve
or have you abandoned all hope in a bitter trail of champagne-soaked tears? Perhaps it’s somewhere between these two extremes.

Or maybe, like me, you’ve avoided making New Year’s resolutions altogether. I haven’t made any in years, not because I don’t have a tremendous amount of room for improvement in my life, but because the whole operation feels like a false construct. 

The underlying assumption embedded in the drive to make New Year’s resolutions is that there is something wrong with you; that you are somehow incomplete or not reaching your full potential. This is easily solvable, but only if you lose 15 pounds or get a better job or start doing crunches every morning to unlock your six-pack abs. 

Advertisers, gym operators, and authors of self-help books love New Year’s resolutions because our collective insecurity leads to big bucks. “New Year, New You!” scream billboards and e-mail subject lines. Purchase that new red dress, sign up for a membership at Planet Fitness, or buy Dr. Oz’s latest fad diet book, and your life will be instantly transformed.

Sure, not all resolutions require an outlay of cash. You can resolve to be kinder to your co-workers or more patient with your grumpy uncle or not to be such a troll on social media. But these still assume that you are somehow irretrievably and hopelessly flawed.

From a theological perspective, this is true. We are all sinners and imperfect beings; not because we’re horrible people but because we are human. Despite our best attempts, we fall short of perfection in this life. And yet this must be balanced with the fact that we are unconditionally loved by God. That God loves us with reckless abandon not because of what we do or refrain from doing, but simply because we are beloved children of God. Too often this message gets sacrificed on the altar of self-improvement.

This isn’t to say that we can’t better ourselves or work to improve the less desirable aspects of our lives. That’s important and holy work. But we don’t hear messages affirming that we are good enough nearly as often as messages reminding us of our shortcomings. Unless you watch reruns of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and listen to him tell you how much he likes you “just the way you are,” you’re bound to have pretty low self esteem, based on the onslaught of outside messages. 

Now, if you’ve made some resolutions for the New Year, know that I’m rooting for you to stick with them. But also know that, whether or not you do, you are beloved by God. Know that God has wondrously made you as a unique being to be loved, not demeaned. And know that this truth is not dependent upon how long you can hold a plank on your yoga mat in 2019. 

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