This year my New Year’s Resolution is to celebrate New Year’s at a time more conducive to change and renewal—oh say, spring instead of the dark, dead of winter when I’m just coming off the sugar high of the holidays. Somehow I think we Gregorian calendar devotees have got this one all wrong.
Historically, New Year’s Day hasn’t always fallen on January 1st because our calendar hasn’t been a consistent entity. Factor in a few mythological gods, Roman emperors, and a pope or two. Add a dash of Protestant Reformation and you’ll find that in the past, the New Year occurred anywhere from January 1 to March 25. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies began celebrating New Year’s on January 1st.) That’s nothing to say of the multiple cultures that celebrate it in recognition of their own calendars. And if you really want your head to spin, don’t forget all our dear southern hemisphere friends who experience the seasons opposite to us and whose Christmas and New Year’s celebrations include BBQs on the beach.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, making resolutions on January 1 is a bad idea.
Because there’s nothing particularly organic about celebrating the New Year this way. For most of us, it’s simply a function of the calendar and happens primarily because we’ve reached the end of the month and need to turn the page (or in my case, glue magnets on the back of my 2012 office-sized calendar from Target and stick it to the side of the refrigerator.) Think about – there is no seasonal change or religious celebration that would motivate us to make resolutions; it’s simply a cultural obligation. Or, in my experience, the result of the guilt from eating too much, exercising too little, and overspending in the last six weeks since Thanksgiving.
But as we’ve all experienced, guilt and obligation really aren’t enough to produce effective change--especially when the bed is so warm at 5:30 and the floor is so cold. I think this may be one reason why so many of our resolutions fall flat (statistics show that only 10% of them will actually survive the year.) We feel compelled by the turn of the calendar instead of something greater; and we insist on making change in the most difficult of circumstances, relying on our own will, ability, commitment, or support group to enact that change. Really, we are simply setting ourselves up for failure.
But what if making resolutions came at a more productive time, a time more in tune with natural and spiritual renewal?
Think about the Jewish New Year celebration in the Old Testament. Rosh Hashanah (or the Feast of the Trumpets) signaled the beginning of the High Holy Days and called the people to ten days of private reflection and repentance. It culminated in Yom Kippur also known as The Day of Atonement. This was the one day a year that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make sacrifice for the people; it was also the day that a scapegoat was driven from the camp to symbolize the removal of their sins and failings. So then, after these observances, the people could walk freely into the New Year knowing that their sin was forgiven and that they had been renewed.
In this case, their New Year’s resolutions were meant to be inspired
by repentance and redemption; they were never intended to be the path to them.
I’m not advocating a return to the Jewish calendar--I think Paul addressed that a couple millennia ago
--but I am suggesting that maybe our resolutions would have more sticking power if they came after a period of reflection, repentance, and turning to God to enable that change. For me that’s Easter. Not only does Easter follow a period designed to highlight human inability, it celebrates the perfection and sufficiency of Christ to effect change in us. Because we all know, there’s nothing like a good Resurrection to remind us of our physical weakness and the impossibility of true renewal apart from divine intervention.
So this year, I’m blissfully ignoring New Year’s resolutions. Sure I’ll stop my holiday binging and I might even enact a few schedule adjustments. But for me at least, the true reason for change doesn’t come just because I flip the calendar. And the true power to change doesn’t come that way either.
We’ve just returned from a holiday trip to best all holiday trips—ten days, eight states, 1500 miles--visiting family and friends for Christmas. It wasn’t without its quiet moments though, and one of them was returning to my husband’s (one-stoplight) hometown of Floyd, Va
. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it rivals Mayberry for its quiet friendliness. The local headline the day we arrived was this:
Dogs spared in duck deaths “On July 12, two dogs and one other attacked five pet ducks in a cage on the property of Fred Jones and Linda Shell-Jones near Pilot. Three ducks died in the attack, and a fourth injured duck was later euthanized while a fifth duck escaped but later returned to the couple’s home. Mrs. Jones described the surviving duck as “traumatized” and said it wasn’t the same after the attack.”
In the end, the judge in the case, a dog lover himself who had brought his new Jack Russell puppy to court that day because he was “too young to be left alone;” decided to extend mercy to these delinquent canines on the grounds that they behaved themselves for the next year.
But Floyd’s also home to an earthier set and has been a gathering place for clean living, free loving, mystical creative-types for the last several decades. The town’s streets, once populated by professional offices, are now lined with alternative shops, art galleries, and music venues.
And so one morning while we were there, my husband and I took advantage of that lovely phenomenon called “grandparents” to slip out to a local coffee house run by a high school classmate. It’s an unusual blend of rustic and groovy with the service and atmosphere as smooth as the coffee.
I was getting in touch with my inner seventies, when I strolled over to the bulletin board. Like the town, the notices were a mix of the practical (For Rent: 3br, 2 bath mobile home on 1 acre) and prophetic (Yoga classes, eastern remedies, and progressive schools).Then I saw it--stuck among the fliers and cards was an 8 ½ x11 sheet of paper typed with the simple words: “Try forgiveness: renew somebody else, regain yourself.”
For some reason, placed as it was alongside an advertisement for meditation classes, I got the sense that it hadn’t been posted by the local Baptist church.
Still, as I read it, something about the power of forgiveness rang true and I couldn’t help but recognize that all of us—no matter what creed or background—long for the certainty that our wrongs have been made right. It’s a drive so deep, so fundamental, so human that we can’t be at peace until the person we’ve wronged sets us free. And the need to forgive is so equally powerful that if we don’t, we end up enslaving ourselves.
Left at that, few of us would argue. From AA to the local synagogue, we all acknowledge that bitterness over past wrongs can consume us and turn us into one dimensional people, ever driven, ever absorbed by them. But is that enough? Is it enough to embrace the power of forgiveness, to know that it is worth pursuing? Is it that we need to be convinced of its value--or is it that we need to be empowered to actually forgive? Because the reality is, how am I--a broken person herself in need of renewal--going to find the inner strength to forgive another broken person also in need of renewal?
It has to start someplace other than me.
And this is where Christianity turns all other philosophy on its head. While other religions may express truth (see above), Christianity says that Christ Himself is Truth, that His life and death embody it all. So when it comes to forgiveness, it is His
perfect life and self-less death that renews us, releases us, and enables us to do the same for others. It is His
forgiveness that makes all other forgiveness possible. It is through Him
that we are no longer defined by sin, and it is through Him
that we are new and we are free.
So yes, by all means, please take the advice of a flier in a hippie coffee shop: do “try” forgiveness because really, there is
life-changing power in it, just like there is deep magic in redemption. But know this—hope in this—because it doesn’t start with us, it won’t end with us either.
Here’s some much needed perspective on the holiday season. In this article,
Rachel Jankovich puts into words much of what I’ve been feeling tangentially, but (quite ironically) have been too distracted with gearing up for the holidays to think through completely. This bit will give you a taste of what I mean:…we have all heard people talk about Christmas like we all just need to get a grip. Where has our spirituality gone that we are worrying about a holiday five weeks in advance? Real Christians would celebrate quietly around the fire with some spiritual reflections, perhaps some small handmade token, or just a loving smile…..but there is one very important part of Christmas that is all too often overlooked, and it applies to everyone. Brace yourselves. . . . Christmas is the ultimate celebration of the material. Because Christmas is the time when God became man. Word to Flesh. Unfettered spirit to the hazards and joys and stresses of physical life. Think about it. Some people want to filter the material out of Christmas and morph it into some pure ethereal spirit religious day. And some people want to filter all the spiritual out of it and make it simply a holiday celebrating the purchasing power of plastic. But the power of Christmas is when spiritual and material meet. And it always has been. That is the joy of the season, that is the good news, that is the laughter and the paradox and the earth-shaking magic of Christmas. The infinite Word became a physical baby.
So go ahead: embrace the crazy. And realize that prepping for the holidays, with all it's messiness and chaos, might just be a very good way to celebrate after all.
I don’t consider myself a niche Christian -- at least I hope I’m not. I like my independence and hate to be classified. I’m not a groupie for any of the following -- SAHM, homeschooling, crunchy, organic, green, conservative, whatever -- but, I do value a lot that is happening in these particular circles and I couldn’t pass over two stories that I saw this week.
One was an open letter
responding to Suze Orman’s counsel
to a young couple that they couldn’t afford to have a second child because in Suze’s world, babies add an extra “$700-$1000 a month” to the budget. (What!?!—I guess we didn’t get the silver spoon variety.)
Instead Suze told the mama, desperate to be home with her little ones in the early years, that “financially speaking, it’s just not a good thing to do.” This was preceded by her critically asking “Why do you have to have another baby right now?” The other story
was that of the Duggars’ recently announcing that they were expecting, and then sadly had miscarried, their 20th child. When Today Show host Ann Curry jokingly asked, “Why isn’t 19 enough for you?” Mrs. Duggar simply replied, “Well, we have the motto around our house that there's always room for one more.”
baby-mama has no plans for 19 or 9 babies for that matter, but even I could recognize the glaring disparity between the two perspectives. For Suze Orman, babies are an expensive liability; for the Duggars, they are a gift. At this point you’re probably asking yourself, savvy reader that you are, what does all this has to do with hospitality? Trust me, there’s a link.
As I was mulling over these stories this week, in combination with prepping for Christmas, I couldn’t escape how much our world today is just like the one that a fragile infant boy entered two thousand years ago. How cold, how unwelcoming, how inhospitable
. And in the middle of all that philosophical meandering, it struck me that this, then, was the essence of hospitality--the belief that there is always room for one more. Whether it’s setting one more place at the table, making an extra bed, or adding a member to the family, hospitality says there is always room for one more.
But this isn’t our world and it’s not the world that the baby Jesus came to either. Ours is a world consumed with our own issues and wants; it’s a world where we cling to our stuff and space with cold, grasping fingers, fearful that even a little baby could take them from us.
Yet, while this may be our world, it isn’t our God.
From the beginning, He has been a God of warmth and welcome, of hospitality and care. When He transformed that swirling mass of darkness into a verdant garden, He said, “Here is a place for you –a place of beauty and wonder. Go fill it, share it with others.”
When He brought His slave-children out of the heat of Egypt into the pleasant watered valleys of Jordan, He told them, “Welcome home, enjoy this land and share it. Just as I took pity you, take pity on others. Open your doors, feed the poor, take care of strangers.”
And when facing that final rejection, before He broke the bread and then His own body, He told us, “Take, eat and drink. I’m going to make room for you in my Father’s house. I will come back for you.Until then, take care of each other and share what you have.”
And so, in so many ways, Christmas reminds us that He came into a world that had no room—no room for Him or anyone else--precisely to make room for us and to teach us how to make room for others.
In a couple weeks, my family will be spending several days at my sister-in-law’s home. We’re a family of five; they’re six with one on the way. The children range in age from eight to two. The house is 1100 sq. ft. You do the math--there really isn’t enough space for all of us. But there is plenty of room.
There’s room because we choose to make it through sacrifice and love. There’s room because we’re willing to give up our space and comfort. There’s room because we believe that the inconvenience of adjusting to tighter quarters is nothing compared to the joy of being with one another.
And so unlike that first Christmas, when the world said that there wasn’t room for one more baby—no matter Who he was—we say, there’s always room. Room for friends, room for strangers, room for little ones. There’s always room for one more because He came so many years ago and made room for us.
I’m slowly emerging from--what we in polite society call--a head cold from the place of eternal perdition. It’s been 7-10 days of full-out and complete battle against invisible forces, armed in one hand with a box of kleenex and in the other, with a fistful of vitamin C and goodness knows what I took in the middle of the night in my congestion-induced haze.
It’s been rough.
Apparently we’ve been passing it around as a family for several weeks now (this is the third Sunday I’ve been home with little ones) and while at first, it contented itself to drippy noses and whiny coughs, it finally conspired into one massive onslaught. Fever, congestion, watery eyes, coughing—the works.
As you can imagine, when mama’s been transformed into a walking ball of germs, it can take a toll on family life. And while I know we ate last week, I have only vague memories of chicken curry and pasta. What form or shape they took, well… your guess is as good as mine. My mind’s been cluttered too and the normally lucid conversations with my husband have been reduced to grunts and the universal absence of antecedents.
Me: So…mumble, mumble, snort….she should just tell him how she really feels… cough, wheeze… about what he said to her when she wasn’t around.
Me: I mean… cough, snort….don’t you think that it was….. mumble, mumble….for him to tell her ….sneeze... she had done?
Me: But he … sniffle…that he didn’t actually say ….mumble, snort… that she had said when he was talking with her.
Husband: “You’re probably right, honey. But I have just one question… what are you talking about?”
In many ways, I feel like I just lost a week of my life.
Because while my children were busy instructing me in the proper way to sneeze (“Mommy, when we sneeze, we do it into our sleeves.”), my productivity has been nil. Writing projects have been pushed back yet another week, piles of laundry have become towering mountains, and Christmas cards have not gone into the mail. Who am I kidding—I haven’t even bought them yet!
And it’s all been very humbling. Because as I stumbled around this last week, barely able to keep our family moving, it reminded me of how vulnerable and weak we really are. And about how silly we are to think otherwise. As this week testified, on a regular basis, organisms we can’t even see interrupt our lives and keep us from accomplishing what we planned--all while there’s very little we can do about it. Medicines, preventions, and immune systems aside, touch the wrong door handle or breathe in the wrong breath of air, and at least for a bit, the only thing you’ll be able to do is rest and wait for your body to heal.
But for some of you, sickness is not simply an inconvenience. It’s a way of life. And while the rest of us may stumble through the occasional head cold, you are sidelined long-term and forced to sit and watch other people move forward, pursue their careers, grow their families, and by all accounts, lead productive lives. All while your strength is devoted to simply surviving.
It must be maddening.
I can’t say that I’ve always been sympathetic to my friends and family who struggle with long-term illness. In fact, I may as well admit the worst—at times, I’ve been downright apathetic. But this week has taught me, among other things, gratitude and perhaps a dose of sympathy. What I experienced this week is nothing compared to what some of you struggle with for a lifetime. And so, if I’m honest, even this bout of illness was grace of a sort. Grace to remind me of my own inability, grace to teach me to rest, and grace to remember to use my good health to serve those who don't have it.
And to those of you who don’t: please be encouraged that this too is a gift because whether you realize it or not, your often, very private struggles are producing “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” While the rest of us are content to make this earth our home and mourn the loss of our bodies as we age, you already know what we’ve yet to learn—instead of clinging to them, it’s so much better to hope in Him and wait for the redemption of them.