Happy New Year!

It’s September 1 and the beginning of the real new year. December 31/January 1 is a good mid-year pause to party and/or ponder. But Labour Day Weekend—this is the end of the actual annual cycle and the beginning of another.

So what are your New Year’s resolutions?

Resolutions that are most likely to be kept can be identified in several ways:

(1) They appear in your calendar. I just made out mine for the fall term, an exercise I always find both stimulating (Look what I get to do this fall!) and sobering (Look what I can’t possibly do this fall!). What doesn’t get scheduled generally doesn’t get done. “Sometime” never comes, and good resolutions un-scheduled quickly become dust in the wind.

(2) They are specific. “Study more” or “Lose some weight” or “Be nicer to my family” or “Purchase more of John Stackhouse’s books” is not enough: not enough to get you out of bed, or out of the fridge, or out of your family member’s face. It certainly isn’t enough to get you to your favourite bookstore, even online, to buy what you know you ought to buy. Only goals that are specific will animate you, direct you, give you a sense of progress, and keep you from stopping before you reach a useful goal. “Study one more hour per day” or “Lose 20 pounds” or “Stop yelling” or “Purchase ALL of John Stackhouse’s books” is more like it.

(3) They are reasonable. “Never, ever say a nasty thing to anyone ever, ever again” won’t last one long commute across town. “Pray two hours every morning” will become “Drowse on my knees with my head on my bed for a useless hour every morning” and then result in “Ah, forget it.” Set a goal that is audacious enough to excite you but also realistic enough to encourage you.

(4) They are supported by others. It works something like this. You declare your goals to a trusted friend; the trusted friend stares at you in disbelief; the trusted friend slaps you, hard; you thank the trusted friend and reformulate your goals in the light especially of (3); you declare your more reasonable goals to the trusted friend; the friend sighs, shakes his or her head ruefully, then grins and agrees to encourage you and hold you to account; you beam in return and begin your progress. AA knows the value of sponsorship and group support. So does the New Testament. Worth considering.

Perfection (Matt. 5:48) is attained by improvement. Improvement is attained one step at a time, and a lot of steps in a row, toward a clear, worthy goal. We have only so much willpower, only so much attention, only so much time, and only so much glucose to spend—as God’s Spirit helps us (and, you’ll have noted, God’s Spirit rarely performs miracles that let us short-circuit normal processes of improvement.) So we need to carefully consider how to move forward in our lives, not just blunder ahead or, like Stephen Leacock’s mounted policeman, ride off in all directions.

Let’s take a little time this weekend, then, to take stock of our lives, consider what ought to be improved, drink heavily as the massive reality of all that needs to be improved crushes our spirits, recover from that over-reaction, and then pray, ponder, and plan our way to a better new year.

Care to record your resolutions here? I’ll start: 15 pounds lighter by Christmas; additional 10 pushups per session; play music at least twice a week on at least two instruments; one-on-one time with each son and each wife each week.

How about you?

9 Responses to “Happy New Year!”

  1. Roger

    John:

    I fully agree. There is something about the fall and the thought of new jeans and a new pencil case that speaks of new beginnings. I will work on mine this week as I fly to Houston.
    One quick tip, in your last line you commit to individual time with each son and each wife each week. Perhaps if you limited yourself to one wife you would have addtional time for study, music and exersise. Just saying.

    • John

      As ever, Roger, you home in on the key problem and pose a characteristically economical solution. My first wife agrees with you entirely.

    • John

      Nope, not specific enough, Brother Erik! “More” could mean “one more minute per week,” and that’s not what you have in mind. So what DO you have in mind? What would let you look back each Sunday evening and say, “Yep, last week I kept my commitment and spent more time with my two young sons”? And what is in your calendar to make that happen?

  2. Chris Appleby

    Hi John,

    Usually I agree wholeheartedly with you, and I do with your comments about New Years resolutions but I’m a bit disappointed with your northern hemisphere blindness. Down under we’re just starting to prepare for end of year exams and football finals. For us December is truly the end of one year and January the start of another, with our long break overlapping the two. I guess that’s just an other reason to be thankful we live in Australia. But thank you for your thoughtful advice on making resolutions that might work.

    • John

      Oo–how embarrassing. I bow low in contrition to my friends in Oz and Kiwiland, let alone in, yes, the ENTIRE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE.

      The only way, though, to properly elevate my consciousness is by experience, not mere exhortation. So Australasians, invite me down and I’ll gladly sing (well, you don’t want that: but I’ll preach, teach, or play) for my supper. Then I’ll never, ever make this mistake again.

  3. Mike in Pennsylvania

    Work up to 10,000 steps a day by Nov and be down to 200 lbs by Xmas. Keep the inbox empty and commit to the weekly review (cf. David Allen).

    • John

      I’m a David Allen fan, too–but the walking isn’t going to do it for me. Walking helps–I even lose weight on cruises by walking so much, despite the good food and drink. But “abs are made in the kitchen,” as they say! Thanks for the encouragement, Brother Mike.

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