I have never been one to fall into the New Years resolution trap. I call it a trap because the New Year starts and for that first day motivation comes free and easy. It’s a new start. A new year. Maybe a new start will bring new life. But as I go on living under the burden of high expectations reality strikes. It says, “you failed.” My steps, once flirtatious with all things new and exciting, begin to slow and the future becomes a dark tunnel. Am I alone?
The following words are notes, just chicken scratch, and fleeting thoughts. Here I endeavor to reassure myself of something. But what? Do I dare to make just one New Year’s Resolution? My resolution is this–to ask myself the following questions so that I can fill my bucket with the most important things first. I choose a resolution from the first sermon of the new year. This sermon offers a torch to navigate the dark tunnel. I am “Trying to escape the muck of a Materialist World”.
New Year’s resolutions all start with pursuit. The next logical question is what do I pursue? And so forth why do I pursue this? But at the core of it all, pushing aside all of the logic and focusing on the heart is the ultimate question. What do I love? Truly, what do I do first because I love it so much? As Pastor Don Willeman, says “what we love is what we worship.” If that doesn’t make one think twice about choosing a New Year’s Resolutions…
Interjection…If what we (and by “we” I mean “I” but I say “we” because you have chosen to navigate this issue with me)…if what we should love is so important why don’t we prioritize it more? Or maybe it should go the other way. Does what we love deserve that much of our focus? Or should it be the thing that goes into our bucket last? I mean really what do we mean by love? Other languages have at least three different ways to say “love” but what does that mean in English? We love movies, music, books, pictures. We love our phones, certain outfits, ways of wearing hair, and cars. We say we love people. How much? To what extent? How often? Unconditionally? I promise this all ties into New Year’s resolutions, but I think the distinction between what we love and should love is by asking the question, “Is what we want or desire worthy of our love?”
I would define love in this case as “where we place our efforts and where we put our greatest focus.” Is it safe in the bottom of our buckets or teetering on the edge between two worlds. Most scientists and psychologists understand that all humans have the desire to be loved and valued. We have a hole in our bucket and it leaks. Each year we try especially hard to repatch and refocus and if you are like me, failure happens almost as soon as you hit the big green commitment button. January 1 comes with a bang and January second follows with a slump in front of the teli. “You failed!” our consciences scream. The next day we try harder and succeed but the rains douse the torch out. Darkness follows. I search with an outstretched arm for another being someone to tell me you failed and I failed but we will not fail. I speak now with complete honesty and an open conscience to whoever is reading this, that “we” is a powerful thing. It is a team.
I choose not the life of William Ernest Henley, author of Invictus. He walked a lonely road and prefer someone to walk with.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
As much as we wish this autonomy over fate and our souls, in reality and if we are honest we do not wish it. Most of us would like to know that failure is not the end of the road, that we are not alone, and that there is someone who will guide us to a resting place. But when things go well, then is it not unusual to forget the God who guides in times of despair. I mean why is that we turn to God only in times of despair?
If we worship ourselves, we will live a lonely life. It isn’t just that simple. There are ways we love ourselves without realizing it and none of them are bad or sinful or of the devil. Again it all goes back to what we worship…the most. How does one even go about asking whether something is worthy of our love? I would ask first, are we worthy of its love? Her love? His love?
Look I get it. I may be over thinking things. Sure. That is how am. But I also understand that many people have this notion that God wants them to be happy. He does. I get that people want to live a happy life with financial security and loving family. But in my eighteen years of life I have seen enough to know an unhappy face when I pass by someone on the street and a lot of the time, that person was well dressed, beautiful, gorgeous even, but just sad. I have seen a lot of unhappy people post Christmas wandering the shopping malls hovering around the sales rack. The rattle, swoosh of hangers clack…a momentary pause…another swoosh, clack and maybe a momentary pause to inspect an athletic shirt on sale or a Patagonia for $100 dollars instead of $200. Consumerism. That is what it is called. Consumerism with a bottomless stomach. “AGHHH” you might say. “What does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Get to the point.”
We are making progress. I swear. After spending that lengthy amount of time asking what a New Year’s resolution is and the emotions that result from most of them, we have to ask how we choose our New Year’s resolution. The question beginning with “what” is a much different question than “how.” Right now I discuss “how” for those of us who struggle to do better and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel (That’s me). What we truly want and desire are very different from what we should pick and choose. “Don’t you see!!!!?” says my pastor (Interjection–can we all just think back to the Princess Bride and reflect on the line of Vizzini “Don’t you see your job is at stake?”…or) “Don’t you see that your LIFE is at stake?” says my pastor. It is a vicious cycle of want, but I would suggest more (shhhhhhh…this is the secret). It is to be wanted.
I think it is appropriate to reflect on the times of failure. I ask maybe in much the same way that a psychologist would, “H0w did that make you feel?” I would respond, “you know what? If I was an egg and someone had a bat, I would be an omelette.” I would splat to the ground and embrace the dirt. I would let myself ooze into the earth…(though this is where the analogy “breaks” down…pun intended) and I would have to continue moving forward. One ugly mess each day, but I am not alone. I call the moments I fail “the pitsssssss of despair (Princess Bride).” At least for me, when I mess up I take it hard. So how can I possibly choose a New Year’s resolution that isn’t going to leave me on an island without shelter when the rains come and the lightning strikes?
There is one more question to ask. What do you fear? Just like what we love, what we fear reveals what we worship perhaps with a stronger grip, a death grip. Most self destructive happenings like suicide are the result of despair and fear. One does not kill him or herself out of love (usually). You might say, “but hey! What about Romeo and Juliet?” They loved each other to the end of life to the point of death.” But why did they die? They died because they could not keep love. They could not live and have love though they did love each other. Love was withheld by an obstacle and death was more satisfactory than life without “twooo wuv.”
If we fear death, we will think of it constantly. If we fear, the roads we will not take risks to make us better drivers. If we fear life, we will cut ourselves off from the good and the bad. If we fear sickness, we will become mentally sick. If we fear ourselves…I don’t think i can answer that one. True worship consumes us from the inside out. And if fear is the motivation for someone’s worship, I pity the fiend inside that friend.
These are my thoughts thus stated in one neat sentence. Two things motivate us to live–fear and love. Two things produce worship–fear and love.
On the dark side both consume us, on the (I confess I have not seen star wars…what is the opposite of the dark side!?)…(!) Might I suggest it’s God’s because on His side fear and love become assets not monsters. I repeat the word freedom? I feel so close but so far from explaining to myself that mysterious word. Freedom which allows for mistakes. Freedom that forgives. Freedom to love without expecting it in return. I can’t tell you what to put in your bucket, but I can direct you to One who won’t just tell you what you need, but He Himself will put the things you need for a life journey in the bottom of your bucket. I can’t tell you where the road is going to end, and I can’t give you a magic carpet, but I can tell you He will not just give you a map to find rest, but he will carry you there. I can’t tell you what you love or what you fear, but I can tell you why despite brokeness, fear, death, divorce, and murder that you need not fear. I can’t tell you how to fix yourself, and I can’t tell you why bad things happen to “decent” people. But in one word, for people who know they need help, I can summarize the purpose of life in one word.
I can’t speak for you but for me “In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song (Stuart Townend, Keith Getty).”
The freedom to love comes with the freedom to know. The freedom to move from the dark and into the light is when one person says to another “I loved you first.” When we choose our New Year’s resolutions we usually prioritize our schedules to meet success. We have chosen our goals with the hope that we will look at ourselves differently and that others will look as us too. To be loved. To be valued. To be adored.
Jesus is the treasure of my life because He first loved me, and if He first love me despite my broken moments, failures, and monster moments then I am loved unconditionally. This is freedom. Freedom to love but free from fear of losing it. Freedom to make as many resolutions as I want, but the executed choice not to have one.