I’ve never been big on making new year’s resolutions.
It’s partly because of a general fear of failure with which I’ve struggled most of my life – I don’t usually start things I’m not already confident I can finish.
Somehow, a “resolution” in my mind had come to mean, “Something I’m going to do every single day to work toward improving myself and/or my environment, because a little effort repeated 365 times ends up being a big accomplishment.”
The reasoning wasn’t bad. Breaking down large goals into little pieces is a good strategy. The problem was that I am unable to keep a commitment to do even one tiny little thing every day. The few times I’ve tried it, even with “realistic” goals in mind, I failed, whether in the second week of January or just a random day in August when something unexpected came up.
If I’m going to make a resolution for this year, I need a better idea of what a resolution is.
Plus, this year isn’t just any year. With every form I fill out, “2019” will remind me it’s been a nice, round decade since THAT year.
2009 is a time I look back on with, shall we say, “all the feels.” I had never experienced so many challenges in such a short time: Unemployment and underemployment, right after buying a home. Financial pressures increasing as the Great Recession deepened. The snowiest winter I’d ever seen. My grandma’s death and my dad’s sudden, terminal cancer battle. A divorce in my “second family.” College friendships changing and tapering off. Coming to grips with still being the single one as I came ever closer to age 30.
But I had also never been as conscious of God’s gracious, tender and surprising provision for me.
I’ve heard many believers describe times of feeling “beset from all sides” as being special times when they called out to God for help and he answered with tangible and intangible signs of his nearness. My experience was no different. Somehow, bills got paid, fun was had, true friends were made and proved, encouragement flowed in from one unexpected source after another.
In 2009, I consistently sought the Lord through fellowship, through music, through prayer and especially through his Word. Forced by my circumstances to consider eternity and mortality, I double-checked my faith against the other “options” out there.
It held up. I found Jesus to be the solid rock he says he is, the only true hope for eternal life. In that knowledge, and by his unfathomable grace, there was deep, deep joy.
I know that joy was real. Even in memory, it is beautiful and pleasant to dwell on it. But the other shoe did drop. After that crisis year was past, life actually got much harder.
My dad passed away in early January, and life inevitably shifted into to a new kind of normal. A beautiful romance came into my life, only to end abruptly and senselessly. In another romance that continues to this day, my mom remarried.
Before me the future stretched out in a purposeless, bendless monotony of survival. I saw nothing to look forward to except the day I could join my dad in heaven – and since I was only 28 and wasn’t suicidal, that seemed many pointless, lonely decades away.
God no longer felt near. He felt unresponsive, teasing, indifferent. Even so, I knew there was no one else to go to who could answer the “why” bouncing around inside me. So I cried out to Him, this time accusingly, pleadingly, irrationally. I threw full-on tantrums to get his attention, crying and screaming into my pillow.
But I clung to the picture of Jesus praying, pleading, sweating blood in Gethsemane. He MUST know the loneliness, the agony, the longing for relief. He knew them better than I did. He volunteered to go through that, and he knew it wasn’t meaningless. It was for a purpose. In fact, it was for me.
My recovery after hitting bottom in 2010 was gradual. God didn’t speak out of a cloud and grant an epiphany that changed everything in a moment. I didn’t start a life-changing new hobby or find the secret to self-fulfillment. I didn’t meet “the one” who would fix loneliness forever.
But hope did emerge. It was like one day I looked around and saw goodness, light and joy again, not sure when they had returned. I found people and purposes to live for, including volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission. It was a place I could see God was working, and I wanted to be there.
And life did change, as much as you might expect over eight years. That future road that had seemed so straight and featureless took quite a few curves. Family relationships evolved and grew. Friendships changed as marriages, children and relocations came along. Then there was my marriage, new family members, a new church, a different job. And I can’t leave out the political upheaval that influences all of our mental outlooks and relationships these days.
In part because of those changes, I find it much harder today to seek the Lord in the ways I did in 2009 and 2010. The “foes” I face now aren’t as easily defined by words like cancer, unemployment, divorce, loneliness. They are subtler, more insidious.
Because God has given me good health, a loving husband, meaningful work, faithful friends, and so many other gifts, complacency is the #1 enemy of my soul: The timeless temptation to cherish and protect the gifts rather than thank and seek the Giver.
To shrug when I realize it’s been days since I even opened his Word – after all, I don’t want to be legalistic about it.
To put off texting or calling someone I love because it might not be a “convenient” time to check in.
To get huffy, defensive and panicky over a work crisis rather than immediately lay it before the One who provides everything I need, everything UGM needs.
I could go on. I’ve grown quite wishy-washy in the past eight years.
So what’s my resolution for 2019? I know it isn’t another daily self-improvement plan.
Dictionaries tell me a resolution should be a “firm decision,” “the quality of being determined,” “firmness of resolve,” “fixity of purpose.” It shouldn’t change because of how I feel from one day (or year) to the next.
In the Bible, the “stone of help” (“Ebenezer”) was set up as a solid physical reminder to God’s people of his many past miraculous interventions on their behalf. It was a warning against complacency and unbelief in the future. And as a huge rock, it was meant to be fixed and firm.
2009 and 2010 are my Ebenezer. Jesus saved me from a host of external challenges and from internal desperation and meaninglessness. Now, by his grace in 2019 and beyond, may he save me from forgetfulness, from over-familiarity and presumption upon his grace, from thinking I earned the comforts I enjoy through my own blood, sweat and tears. May he create in me a firm resolution, a fixed purpose, to pursue a heart after his own, that loves what he loves.
“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” – Hebrews 3:13-15
I resolve to fix my mind and my heart on Jesus and his priorities today. Not “this year.” Not “for the rest of my life.” Not “every day.” Today.
Today is the only day for which the choice is in my hands.
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