Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Beginnings ...

New Year’s Eve: Just the mere phase conjures up questions on what the New Year will hold for us or perhaps what our resolutions may be. The completion of a year on our calendar is a worldwide event of note. It is celebrated in every country and culture. Some mark the occasion with fireworks, or dropping balls and apples, with parties and concerts; most stay home and watch all these events on their televisions. Families may get together to just “be together” to mark the occasion. What is it about annual advancement that seems to stimulate within us the idea that somehow tomorrow is substantially different that yesterday?

It is interesting to me that our culture embraces the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions” as if they had any merit at all. A careful self examination of any past self-declared resolution, would likely find it was abandoned within the first few weeks of the new year itself. A few last through the first quarter. Some diehards make it into the 2nd or 3rd quarter. But almost no-one on New Year’s Eve can categorically state strict adherence to last year’s resolution. In fact, most people can hardly remember last year’s resolution, unless they intend to use it again this coming year. But despite the facts, we continue to embrace the process over and over and over again.

The funny thing about a New Year’s resolution is that once you blow it, you’ve blown it. The calendar date only moves forward one day in 365, so if you give up on a resolution, it takes quite a few days before you can make another New Year’s declaration. And that is pretty much how society treats these statements. I think they are meant to inspire us, to try harder to improve ourselves or our community in the coming year; or perhaps to remind us of what we did not finish in the last year. I guess the feelings are positive while we make them. The intentions seem to be affirmative.

But isn’t that all a load of hooey (note the extreme language – hooey being heretofore defined as cattle excrement in large quantity)? We all know full well, we are not going to end the year having kept our resolution. We may not enjoy admitting it, but history is prologue. Our record on keeping promises and resolutions is dim at best. Dads try real hard to keep a promise to their children, but sometimes life or a boss has other plans. Moms try real hard to keep promises to their families, but the unexpected can certainly throw a wrench into that process. Even special occasions like New Years do not impact our ability to follow through on our promises.

Is it that we over-commit perhaps? We pledge more than we expect to be able to perform (again in order to inspire us to shoot for the stars). Or do we consider “circumstances” as viable disclaimers to our intentions of good will? And yet what is the impact of our lack of follow through on the resolutions we declare? The world does not stop revolving. Life goes on. The planets align as they should. No cataclysm. No catastrophe. Nothing really bad happens when we do not actually follow through on the good works we planned to do. But then again, nothing gets better either. It is the lack of improvement that is the invisible catastrophe in our inevitable malaise. We do not realize what it is we are missing. Poor, blind, naked … comes to mind.

But if our intentions are truly good, and motivated to do good, then isn’t that in itself enough? Isn’t the point of this process to inspire good thoughts within us, and to help us to look for things that could be improved? But if so, then seeing without doing is of what value? Yet none of us seems to languish in guilt over broken annual commitments to make our world a better place. I never hear a single person making a new resolution, consumed in guilt over losing the last one. It is rarer still to hear a success story of a resolution either. Does this make us sociopaths? I doubt it. But it does give a clear indication of how much we expect the success we are willing to commit to. And rightly so.

Christ said it best. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’.” The idea of making verbal commitments beyond a simple answer is meaningless. If you do not have absolute control, you cannot make absolute commitments. Since almost every bit of life is beyond your control, your promises of any kind are simple vanity. You commit to mark your intentions, but not your reality. And yes, this affects a great many things beyond simple New Year’s resolutions. It includes the promises we make to our children; the promises we make to each other, like a marital vow for instance; and even more disturbing the promises we make to ourselves.

So does this mean we should not swear to anything, or make any promises or verbal commitments? Sounds like it, but if you look closely enough there is more the story. Take a marriage vow for example; we make all these commitments to each other, yet 50% of us end our marriages completely, and even those who survive often do so because of forgiving the breakage of vows of our partners. Not promising, and not committing, does not lessen our obligations or more importantly our intentions in the process, so what is the answer? How about recognizing what does last? How about seeing what is eternal and unchanging and making commitments based on Him.

What if the promise I made to my wife began as follows: “It is my clear intention to honor you as my wife, to love and serve only you for the remainder of my life, to be with you both in this world and the world to come – so I recommit myself to my Lord and Savior, and I trust to His strength to see my intentions become reality. I pledge now and always to take our struggles to Him, to employ His forgiveness when we both fall, and to embrace His redemptive power to change what must be changed within me to truly be your husband.” In so humbling myself before my wife and my God, I place my words in His hands for fulfillment – A God who has NEVER failed me or anyone I know. My commitment now extends beyond the boundaries of even our life on this planet, as God is eternal, so is the intention of my marriage. If I am looking for death to cut my bonds, I must ask myself why. When we say we want to be together forever, do we truly mean it? This kind of vow has that potential.

My promise only has merit when based on my humility in accepting God as my guarantor. Where my words cannot be backed with control, His grace is able to overcome any obstacle the world may present. Even my commitment to my God, must be backed with the strength of my God to see it last and not rely on me in any way. All my promises must be made this way. Some have shortened this idea to the phrase “God willing”. But this over-simplifies what it is we are saying and negates what we should truly feel when committing before God. It is not God’s willingness that affects our abilities to keep our commitments, it is our trust in Him that does so. Letting God lead. Allowing God to change us, mold us, and recreate our very thoughts in His own image. This rebirth is our only surety. It does not make our words any stronger. It does not make us more faithful. It acknowledges that He alone is faithful. It is a testament to all who know us, and who hear us commit in this way, that we know our own unworthiness and therefore trust completely in the faithfulness of our God. His strength. His ability. His love.

When we learn to think this way, New Beginnings can happen all the time. We do not need to wait for New Year’s Eve, a birthday, or some other special occasion in order to mark what our lives will be like going forward. And what is more, when commitments are made in this way, they last. For it is not us that sees to their fulfillment, it is our God that does. We are effectively giving God the carte blanche He needs in our lives to keep us moving forward. He is able to remind us, to inspire us, to alter our perceptions, increase our abilities, and provide us with the motivation we need to complete the works He sets before us.

As this process increases, we promise less and less. It is not our fear of commitment that deters us, but the realization that God must lead and not us. We become more content to follow than to strike out on our own. This is how it should be. It is our pride that must be killed in order for humility to truly be born in us. As our own self interest disintegrates, selfless service is put in its place. Becoming changed is a process that begins as soon as we let it. It was designed this way. No need to wait for heaven to start. No need to postpone freedom from the self-inflicted-pain we call evil. The time to begin is now. Success is not in our hands, and so therefore is a surety from our God. Will you join me in humbly accepting His gift to us? …

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