We have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions.
What’s not to love about the idea of a fresh start? The first day of the first month of a brand-new year: What a great time to put all of the big and small failures of the past behind us and begin all over again, heading into a future full of opportunities and free of the pain of regret!
What we hate, even though we may not really know it when we are standing on the threshold of a new year, is the deep disappointment that accompanies the first slip. What we hate, even if we are somehow sort of expecting it, is the creeping malaise that comes with forgetting what we even promised ourselves when we were on the cusp of that new beginning.
Personally, I also hate the idea that this year, this time, someone — maybe even me, aha!!! — has come up with the magic bullet that’s going to kill all that disappointment. One article says, “Don’t make resolutions, make affirmations!” Another says, “Treat every day like New Year’s Day!” Yet another trumpets the benefits of just being good to yourself, and so it goes, on and on.
The prospect of a new year, a fresh start, is exciting and enticing and wonderful. It’s also temporary, and it’s kind of a poor substitute for the renewal we are really looking for.
No magic bullets here. The way we look at the New Year is, I think, a symptom of the deeper need we have. Call it the need for redemption, the quest for salvation, the God-shaped hole in our souls; call it what you will, making and breaking a bunch of resolutions is not going to fill it.
Over the years, I’ve covered the spectrum of all the ways to celebrate the New Year on the calendar. I’ve partied the new year in, sometimes so boisterously that the hangover didn’t hit until January 2. I’ve slept it in, trying, in a state of depression, to ignore the fact that life was going on around me. I’ve celebrated it sober, drunk, with friends, with family, alone, and not at all — not necessarily in that order.
And in more recent years, I’ve discovered a way that makes a lot more sense, and keeps me pointed in a direction that lets me move forward into the New Year with a sense of peace.
The foundation of this celebration, for me, is rooted in faith — and it’s all the more significant for me since it was not always so.
Here’s the thing. I don’t need to redeem myself, and if I need a fresh start, I always have one before me.
The redeeming has already been done. Did we not just celebrate the birth of Jesus, Who came as a tiny child and grew to become the promised Messiah? Do we not yet realize that as our Messiah, His death and resurrection provided us with redemption once and for all? Do we still not understand that in God’s constant mercy and willingness to forgive, we have a fresh start in front of us every time we turn to Him?
Since my return some seven years ago to a life centered in faith, about which I’ve written before, I’ve enjoyed a growing sense of peace in celebrating the New Year. Instead of looking for the right New Year’s Eve party, I look for the Mass schedule at my parish church. Whether I go to the vigil Mass on December 31 or the morning Mass on January 1, I am enraptured by the focus on, and celebration of, the Holy Family. And in this quiet, joyful celebration, I am led into a new year of seeking, as did Mary and Joseph in bringing Jesus into the world and raising Him here so that He could redeem us, a new year of seeking to serve God in the people around me — my own family and all those I encounter.
The idea of a new beginning marked by all kinds of resolutions is seductive, in its way — we’ve been through it enough times to know how it’s going to end. I know how my new path is going to end, too, and can I be honest? I like it much better.
Instead of something big and shiny and new — and, by the way, unsustainable! — I get joy from doing what I have already been doing for the past year and what I hope to do all through this coming year. Nothing new here, but everything is new every day.
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