My Lord God, . . . The fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. — Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
I decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year. They are always the same and, like everyone else, I never keep them.
First is the resolve to lose weight. When will it be possible to think of the future without envisioning a thinner me?
Naturally, to achieve goal No. 1, I’ll need to make goal No. 2: Exercise regularly.
Then a firm goal of going to bed earlier. 10:45 at the latest!
Next comes something spiritual, like reading the entire Bible or maintaining a practice of daily devotions.
On the years I’ve been especially unrealistic, I’ve resolved to change a habit, such as being late or eating too fast.
Generally, the list includes a chore’s completion that is long overdue, like painting the garage door or cleaning out the attic.
Self-improvement never sounded so appealing.
When I read through my high school journals, written 20 years ago, I was nonplussed to find I could have written many of those pages last night.
My end-of-the-day musings are remarkably unchanged: I shouldn’t have stayed up so late reading. I will definitely have only an apple for lunch. I’m absolutely going running after school. Tomorrow I’m totally going to accomplish the 500 things I didn’t do today.
It’s New Year’s Eve every night at my house. Just without the laughter and confetti.
It is refreshing and invigorating to set goals, but the cyclical nature of New Year’s resolutions is dispiriting. Year after year we affirm that we are not thin enough, organized or controlled enough.
We are not good enough.
Well, of course we’re not. Heaven help the day I believe I’ve arrived at my best self. Or my best life.
But our tradition of making yearly, life-altering resolutions skews awfully close to cultivating a “grass is always greener” attitude. Believing that wholeness lies just over the crest of the next hill is a poisonous worldview to pursue.
New Year’s resolutions also promote meritocratic worth. There is nothing I can do that will make me more valuable as a human being.
The very concept of a New Year can be misleading. There is no flipped switch that drops down a clean backdrop at 12 o’clock. The cartoon image depicting the past year as an old man and the new year as a baby does not represent reality. 2016 remains wrapped around me as I walk into 2017. Underneath is 2015 and 2014, and on and on. The layers stifle and constrict, even as they protect and strengthen.
The New Year is just another midnight. Another sunrise we do or do not see. It is another turn of the calendar page that brings another chance to do some good in this world and the life we inhabit.
I know I’m not going to be a better person this year. I’ll hopefully grow and improve in some ways, and I’ll most certainly backslide in others. There will be things I encounter for the first time and old demons I have yet to conquer.
I have one resolve, and it is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. That I will fix my eyes on Jesus: the Light in the darkest places and the greatest Love of all.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.