Resolutions on New Years Eve

If my back cooperates, we’ll be ringing in the New Year with our dear friends Greg and Mary, eating gumbo, drinking wine, playing games, and — at least in my case — fighting to stay awake past my usual 9:30 bedtime. It promises to be a lot of fun, and as I prepare for the start of 2010, I’m reminded of one thing:

This New Year, I resolve only to not make resolutions.

This is primarily because my goals are high and numerous — there are so many areas in my life that I really ought to approach with greater character and self-control, and I save up so many of my hopes and goals and wishes and dreams for January 1 that it’s nearly impossible for January 2 to come without my having failed in something. I want to eat more raw spinach and less refined sugar, drink less coffee and more water. I want to take all of my vitamins and supplements and get at least 20 minutes of heart-pounding exercise every day, and I want to combine all the torn scraps of paper, sticky notes and old address books into a single coherent, streamlined source. I truly want to read my Bible with clarity and devotion and keep a journal without self-editing, just as I want to cultivate more kindness and gratitude while filing off the serrated edges of my righteous anger and ridding myself of all unrighteous anger.

I want to dust the entire house at least once a week and learn to bake pies. I want to not feel like a complete and utter failure when I don’t.

And therein lies my problem. I have an idea of what Keely 2.0 would look like — some upgraded version of my current self, with all the bugs and errors worked out so that I enter 2010, and present myself to others, bright, shiny, and perfect. It’s a common dream, I think, but it’s also, for the Christian, a hopeless one.

If we could please God through our own efforts, we wouldn’t need Divine grace. And we can’t; a God who could be bowled over with delight at my or anyone else’s good deeds is a God not worth worshiping. A God so easily impressed would have little to offer the world — certainly not salvation, certainly not lasting joy, and certainly not the dual power of Divine justice and Divine love. This isn’t to say that the Lord doesn’t take pleasure in our good works; it’s clear from Scripture and simple logic that he does. But if our selflessness, kindness, goodness and generosity could bridge the sin-gap between Heaven and Moscow, there would be no need for a Savior — nor would our eternal home be terribly, markedly different from our town.

The promise of the Holy Spirit, and the fruit produced by living in the Spirit, is a result of our recognition of our own powerlessness and our crying out to the One who is all powerful. It’s the job of the Spirit to work in the faith-pleading, redeemed believer — to develop in each of us who call on God character that more and more conforms us to the image of Christ. We can cooperate, of course, or we can shrug off the living God inside us and go at it ourselves, squaring our shoulders and setting our sights on things that are very likely very good, but entirely unattainable on our strength.

Years of discipleship as Christ’s forgiven and beloved, not to mention years of frustration at goals set and soon set aside in failure, have given me comfort. There are areas in my life that need my attention, but only in cooperation with the Spirit within; there are things in my life that bother me and yet don’t seem to bother the Lord, and there are things in my life I’m quite satisfied with that, in quiet times, I know really aren’t satisfying, fulfilling, the Better that God has for me. I’ve been promised abundant life in Christ. That’s not found in a tally of deficits, a list of goals, or even a report of Really Profound Areas Of Obedience In Keely’s Life. It’s found in discovering and embracing, living and loving — unabashedly — who God has made me to be. God is glorified in us when we live the unabashed life. If we could grasp the delight he looks at us with and the depth of color, quirks, characteristics and qualities created in us for God’s glory, we would laugh at the thought that we’d ever tried any other way.

To paraphrase Iraenus, the glory of God is woman fully alive. And so raw spinach is good, and dusting is good, and love is always better than not-love. But lists and resolutions and promises made every December 31 don’t bring life. Only Spirit brings life; everything else just forestalls death. That’s no way to live.

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