an honest look at resolutions

Ready or not, the new year is here to stay. We’re already in the double-digit days of January, facing single-digit temperatures and a long stretch of ordinary life, without any significant amount of time off work or school in the near future. By now, anyone who so much as thought about a New Year’s resolution has either trashed theirs or is facing the less-exciting reality that comes after the hopeful planning/dreaming.

It could be losing weight, getting in shape, eating better, or simply being outside more often. It could be reading more, painting more, writing more, or watching Netflix less often. Maybe even it’s about having consistent quiet times, memorizing a passage, or getting serious about prayer.

Giving more, doing more, being more.

We make these things called “resolutions” in an attempt to throw out our bad habits and dissatisfactions and shortcomings. We look at a mystical ideal of who we long to be, and tell ourselves, “this year, we can do this.”

But, early on (for me, it was high school) we start to catch on. We see and experience the let-down of our inability to follow through, and the following New Year, can’t help but carry a little cynicism with us. If we continue to make resolutions, we do so with a strained optimism, trying to forget what happened the year before. With a certain heaviness, we know what is most likely going to happen: odds are, we will fail. The resolution will not hold, it will not make it (maybe not even past mid-January). It will not being the change we hope for, because we will not be able to sustain it.

Now, there are plenty of people who follow through and accomplish what they set out to do for their resolutions. It is possible, absolutely. I applaud you.

But why are the rest of us defeated before the snow melts? C.S. Lewis was no stranger to this:

Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean,
Not that which may be speaking an hour hence
(For I am Legion) in an opposite sense,
And not by show of hands decide between
The multiple factions which my state has seen
Or will see. Condescend to the pretence
That what speaks now is I; in its defence
Dissolve my parliament and intervene.

Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall
Free will once given. Yet to this moment’s choice
Give unfair weight. Hold me to this. Oh strain
A point – use legal fictions; for if all
My quarrelling selves must bear an equal voice,
Farewell, thou has created me in vain.
~C.S. Lewis, “Legion”, Poems (1964), (1st published in The Month, April 1955)

Lewis, in this poem, is essentially praying about a resolution that he has made with a full awareness of how a human’s fickle mind works. He made a choice, knowing that later on he would have trouble feeling the same way about the decision as he did in that one moment. Doubts and troubles awaited him down the road, even as close as “an hour hence”.

We are divided creatures: “multiple factions which my state has seen”. We experience war within ourselves, each day we breathe, deep in our chest. We want something one day and make grand proclamations that we will do whatever it takes; the next day (or the next hour), a million excuses stop us.

This is true for new years resolutions (the gym is terribly hard to go to some days / memorizing that passage just doesn’t sound interesting some days / Netflix just makes it so easy to watch one more episode), and I think it’s true for how we pursue Jesus also.

I know that, for myself, there are countless mornings upon mornings that I have sat with Jesus and have determined: “Jesus, you can have my all. I trust you. I surrender. I choose you and your way of doing things over mine. Mold me, teach me to be like you. Murder the vines of pride and selfishness and timidity that choke me out. I choose this, over my own comfort and self-pleasing. I value what you say more than what others may think. I want you, most of all. You’re all I need.”

And an hour later, my soul is running opposite to all of that. I resist loving a friend when it costs me, or I get annoyed when something doesn’t go my way. I let fear, of people’s opinions or of losing something I hold dear, keep me from being fully His.

So what do I actually want? What are my true pleas and desires? Is selfishness what I actually want, since it’s what I end up acting on most of the time?

“Condescend to the pretence // That what speaks now is I”  – Lewis claims that the “self” that chooses this is more his real self than whatever comes along later on to protest and resist. This poem is a plea for Jesus to hear us and to take us at our word when we are most “sane”. How then, do I know when that is?

I suspect it is the times I am with the One who created me, who loves me, who is Truth. Being with and focusing my attention on Truth helps me know what I truly want.

How beautiful that Jesus does not change, based on our feelings. He doesn’t give up because we woke up one day and felt none of the motivation we felt the day before. He doesn’t change his plan because we have weaknesses. And he knows I will fail, but that’s kind of the point of grace, isn’t it?

The decisions we make are not always carried out in harmony and ease (if only!). Often it is a brutal going-against, a swimming against the current. We make resolutions in moments of clarity, and then find that all our emotions and wishy-washy natures get in the way. We find that we are not strong enough. We find that we cannot fist-clench our way into being the person we long to be. 

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah, and it’s terribly easy to roll my eyes at the Israelites. They were always turning away from God, coming back, turning away, repenting and then changing their minds again. And from a third party perspective, they seem idiotic. When they have the choice between a living, loving, powerful and true God and little, dead idols made of metal and wood that cannot do or provide or change anything, it seems so simple. The obvious thing for them to do would be to just choose God and stop with the useless idols. To give up the futile attempts at independence, self-accomplishment and self-glorification. But when I’m honest, the older I get, the more and more I identify with them, see my own tendencies flashed back at me from the pages. I do the same, all the time; I pick useless things, all the time. And from heaven’s perspective, from Truth’s perspective, how silly does my distrust of God and my pursuit of useless things look?

There is a balance between knowing that we are weak, helpless, and unable, and knowing that He is all the opposites. He is strong and mighty and able on our behalf.

Being a weak and wishy-washy human is never a reason to not make goals, to not commit ourselves, etc. We still should. We may fail, a lot. But every day we are given grace to re-choose. Every hour. Choose Him, again and again.

Because even as we struggle and fail and have to re-choose all the time, we are covered in grace and guided by someone who is perfectly strong and perfectly able to carry out what he intends to do in us.

So, I’m a fan of new years resolutions. I’m also a fan of January 2nd resolutions, and March 13th resolutions, and July 30th resolutions. I’m a fan of February 6th, August 22nd and December 29th resolutions, because it’s not about what day it is that we choose Jesus, it’s that we do, and how often, and how much. He doesn’t expect us to be awesome at completing what we resolve (thankfully, because my resolve to trust him is often marked with failure); he only asks that we resolve after Him.

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