Resolutions and repentance
On the morning of New Years’ Day, my wife asked me, “Are you making any New Year’s Resolutions this year?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. “You?”
I can’t remember whether I made any last year. If I did, they didn’t last long. I understand the draw: who wouldn’t want a fresh start? Some decided change in behavior? But what might it take for a New Year’s resolution to stick?
I’m not sure I have an answer, but it strikes me that there is some resemblance between such resolutions, and the Christian practice of repentance. The church in all its stripes has had moments of thinking that the trick to repentance, to true change, is feeling guilty enough for whatever you’ve done wrong that you just might be able to make it right. On this model, repentance is often an intensely private affair, fraught with all sorts of emotions.
An alternative model, though, holds that the power of repentance is rooted not primarily in guilt and remorse, but in simple honesty coupled with a renewed connection. In other words, it has to do with relationship: God’s unconditional love for us, and our shared commitment to receive and share that love with each other and with those around us, has the power to turn us around.
Take some classic resolutions: exercise more, eat healthier, stress less, spend more quality time with the people you love. It might be natural for some combination of personal guilt and hope to unearth these sort of goals. But for them to have a chance, to provide the sort of fresh start they promise, they probably can’t claim to be silver bullets for our self-confidence, or answers to our biggest problems. Instead, they likely have to be rooted in love. Someone has to love us even before the journey has begun and promise to stick with us regardless of how it goes. Not that they or we aren’t invested in the outcome: but the relationship has to be primary.
This is the sort of love commitment God is in the business of making with us. And it is also the sort of commitment God invites us to make with those around us: not just our families, but others God happens to bump us into. Let’s start the year renewed in the love of God, and then see what happens.