• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

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?

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