three things to consider when making new year’s resolutions

For every single ounce of me that loves Christmas, I sometimes wonder whether I love New Year a little more.

I’ve been writing this blog for over five years, during which my output has gone up and down like a yo-yo – so it’s telling that, regardless of how much or little I’m writing generally, I’ve always felt compelled to write something in January to do with the new year stretched out before us.

Last year, I wrote with optimism that 2017 would be a year for more writing (it was – certainly more than 2016 – but 2018 will be even more prolific…). In 2016, I spoke of the guilt and failure that can surround New Year’s resolutions. In 2015, I vowed to spend more time reading and more time cooking. In 2014, I wrote about shedding the guilt, and, in 2013, about living a more celebratory life.

I think what does it for me about New Year is the fresh sense of perspective and optimism. I feel the same in September, at the start of the new school year. I wonder if it’s no coincidence that September and January fall right after August and December, which is when I get my proper breaks – an August summer holiday, and a December longer-than-usual stay with my hospitable in-laws. Both these times perk me up, give me a chance to reflect and think (as much as is possible with tiny people around), and get me excited to return to normal life with a bit more vigour.

It’s not hard to derive from this that I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love finding ways to become more organised, efficient, spiritual, healthy or whatever. But, this year, it struck me how easy it is to let our good intentions block our relationship with our Father God. Here are a few easy pitfalls I know I can fall into:

1. Resolutions can make us feel like we’re in control. Of course we love to feel like we have a handle on things, don’t we? It’s entirely natural to want to feel like we’re prepared for whatever life throws at us. But, sadly, life throws all sorts of things at us that no amount of January weight loss, healthy eating, housework regimes or devotional times can handle. I could name you four things that four of my friends suffered in the last couple of months of 2017 which could not have been predicted, or prevented through better planning or organisation. We don’t know what’s round the corner, and neither do our resolutions or the improved lives we might have as a result of them. Only God knows, and He is the one we need to allow to steer our lives.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we hand over control to God. For example, a common resolution might be to lose weight, exercise more or eat more healthily. This is godly, insofar as there is a Biblical imperative to look after the bodies God has given us. But new diets and regimes can easily start to control us, competing for the throne that should belong to God. So perhaps we can alter our resolution:

Old resolution: “I will lose weight by joining [insert name of preferred slimming group!]

New resolution: “I will honour God with my body. This year I will pray for Him to help me love and accept my body, and to help me get it into good condition. I will join [slimming group/gym/whatever] but, however well or badly this goes, my priority will be to commit my body to God.”

2. Resolutions can make us feel superior.

One of my resolutions this year is to exercise more patience with my kids, particularly in the area of helping them to regulate their emotions by staying the calm, sensible one (trust me, this is not something which comes easily to this impatient, oft-tempestuous Desertmum). However ‘well’ I do at this, I will still never be a perfect parent, but I might go a couple of weeks, or – let’s push the boat out here – months, with increased patience, and that might in turn make me feel superior to a parent I witness yelling at their kid in the supermarket. A BIG FAT ‘NO’ TO THIS! We are called to humble ourselves and serve others. Does this sound like the definition of ‘superiority’ to you?

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we prioritise humility.

Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and of course we see bags of it in Jesus himself. It is clearly a good and godly thing for me to desire this gift, particularly in the area of parenting. But patience without love is useless! So I could adjust my resolution as follows:

Old resolution: “I will be more patient with my kids.”

New resolution: “I will ask God for His patience as I interact with my kids. I want to grow in His love – for my kids and for other people. I will remember how hard it is to be a parent, and will pray that God uses me to be a blessing, not a curse, to other parents. And when I fail at patience, I will take comfort in God’s forgiveness.”

3. Resolutions can make us feel more holy.

Many Christians like to start the New Year with a resolution linked to their Christian journey. Last year I resolved to read My Rock My Refuge, committing to daily Bible reading. Others might resolve to join a lively church, get involved with the church they’ve recently joined, start attending a house group, develop a structure of personal prayer, or read a discipleship book. The problem is that, if we focus too much on these ‘external’ habits of faith, we can forget the God who is our motivating factor.

It’s not wrong to make resolutions, as long as we acknowledge God’s love and acceptance of us, just as we are. 

These are all good and godly resolutions – God wants to draw even closer to us, and always has so much more to teach us, show us, and astound us with! So hats-off to you if you’ve made a resolution like this for 2018, and may God bless you as you draw closer to Him and seek to hear His voice more clearly in your life. But let’s keep, at the very forefront of our minds, the truth that God loves us just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more (or less). If we spend 2018 not going to church, reading the Bible or praying, He won’t love us any less, come New Year 2019.

Old resolution: “I will pray daily for the members of my house group by name.” (This is one of mine for 2018 – think I’ve managed it once so far!)

New resolution: “I will praise God for His love for me and for every one of my house group friends. I know that He has their backs, and sustains them from day to day. In the light of this, I will bring their names to Him daily, knowing how much He wants to do in all of our lives.”

God bless you as you consider the year ahead, and what He might be calling you to.

(I have one very exciting ‘resolution’, a sense of what God might be calling me to, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon!)

 

 

when the new year fails before it’s even begun

There is nothing like the seeing-in of a new year to convince us of our failures.

Take New Year’s Eve. Whilst I love the idea of it, I find myself caught in that awkward time of life when celebrating it in any way, shape or form seems near impossible. Lodged between my carefree twenties, when I was free to go anywhere and do anything, and my forties, which I sincerely hope are going to be like a second adolescence, as my kids grow into the right age and temperament for partying with us, these days I find myself generally doing very little to see in the New Year. Scrolling through Facebook, it would appear that my parent friends are the same. If we’ve managed a glass of something alcoholic and made it to 11 without passing out due to sheer exhaustion, then that passes as a decent celebration. I chuckled when I read that one of my friends had celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco and University Challenge, and admired their determination to celebrate whilst their 1-year-old slept upstairs. And yet something about my own lack of energy to put anything into New Year’s Eve makes me wonder: if I can’t even get this one night right, what’s the hope for the rest of the year?

Then there is the constant stream of end-of-year reviews, in every format. There’s nothing like a quiz about the previous year’s events to remind me at how rubbish I am at keeping up with the news. I don’t even know which celebrities have got married/divorced/enhanced, let alone the Important Events. Honestly, I watch Charlie Brooker chiefly to catch up with the main news stories of the year. Again, FAIL is written right over me.

And let’s not forget the constant pressure to be a Winning Mum – read: scour Pinterest for creative ideas to make the New Year meaningful and poignant for your 2 year old. Time capsules. Firework crafts. Chinese lanterns. Wishing trees. Over-optimistic lists of what you all want to achieve this year. I’ve done none of this. I kind of want to, but not enough to actually make it happen. FAIL.

Of course this leads us nicely to the elephant in the room: New Year’s resolutions. Surely nothing reminds us of our own failure more than vowing to do something you know is over-ambitious. And all around us, people seem to be actually achieving their goals: losing weight, running marathons, travelling the world. What about me? FAIL.

As I ponder this, I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Whether actually the passing of old seasons, and the arrival of new ones, is not about making oneself better, stronger, fitter, richer. Whether the change of year is actually no more significant than a new month, a new week, a new day – each one abounding in the same fresh hope and new opportunities.

The writer of Ecclesiastes had something to say about this:

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecc. 3:1)

After listing a variety of activities, he concludes:

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” (Ecc. 3:12-14)

Perhaps the New Year is not so much about striving for more, but acknowledging what we have. Perhaps it is not so much about improving our lives, but noticing the good which is already there. Perhaps every day – not every 365 days – is a chance to grab opportunities, see the good, serve someone else, live with hope in our blood. Maybe what we need most is what we already have – and the One we already have is ready to do the impossible this year: acts which will endure forever, beyond whatever fitness regime or career ambitions or self-improvement plans we could set ourselves.

This is not a time for failures. We have already failed – and, try as we might, we will fail again. Instead, may we entrust our 2016 to God, with all the successes and failures it will bring. His works – not ours – will be of lasting substance. On 31 December 2016, I want to be content and encouraged by having sat back and let God take centre stage during the year. I want stories of His goodness and grace, miracles and wonders, the addicted released and the hungry fed. And then I’ll know, whether I party till the early hours or crash out at 9pm, that God’s love endures forever.

2015: the year of books (part one)

What is it about the early days of January which invoke such a sense of optimism and hope?

I am resolved – nay, I am certain – that 2015 will bring a much greater sense of order and balance to my home. Papers, crafty bits, recipes will be neatly filed. Files will be efficiently arranged (like in an Ikea study) and beautiful (like in a Paperchase window display). Shelves and cupboards will be tidy, ordered, labelled. There will be a sense of agenda to every nook and cranny in the house. Just like this:

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And yet…

…the rest of the house (i.e. all space apart from the above square metre) currently resembles a rather shambolic warehouse, where space is being contested by the toy department at John Lewis and around fifty-six different confectionery retailers.

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It seems that the more I put away, the more appears. Despite aiming for a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule with Christmas presents this year, the charity shop bag still feels puny. I am a hoarder, a mess maker, a creative spirit, an over-busy mum…yet there is something about turning the calendar over to ‘January’ which makes me feel that my foibles simply don’t exist anymore.

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Within a week or two, however, I start to become more realistic, and turn my attention to happier, kinder resolutions. Two years ago, for example, I resolved to celebrate more. Last year, I released myself from irrational guilt. I didn’t blog very much about this, predominantly because the guilt was shed in situations which would be too small, insignificant and dull to write about for a public audience. But I noticed. Perhaps, more importantly, I recognised some of the (often positive) influences in my life which induce guilty feelings about this, that or the other – none of which is, by Biblical standards, wrong. For example, where do I get my guilt about shopping at Tesco or Amazon? Purely by exposing myself to conversations, articles or research highlighting the ways in which large companies exploit others. It is good to expose myself to these things – they are good influences in my life. But when they go beyond simply informing my decision making and start making me feel bad for every single time I weigh up the various conflicting factors involved in shopping (time, money, dragging the kids around the shops, etc) – then that is not good. So, for me, 2014 was a year of working out that sort of stuff. It wouldn’t have made great reading, which is why I didn’t expose you to it, but trust me that it changed (and is changing) me.

So…celebration, shedding the guilt…and for 2015, it’s all about books…and books, I feel, are a much more realistic (and long-lasting) resolution than home perfection. There are two challenges, and this is the first:

I’ve read very little during adulthood, particularly since having the kids, even though I love reading. I’m a slow reader, and don’t seem to be able to make time for relaxing with a book. In 2014, however, I finished seven books. SEVEN! Now, this doesn’t sound very much to those of you who get through a book a week, but to a tortoise-reader like me, it’s something to feel proud of. Here are three of the seven (the others have been lent out to friends – surely the best recommendation of a book?!):

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My challenge for 2015 is to aim to read twelve books, one a month, which I will of course review on this blog, recommending if I feel strongly that it’s something you’d love. There might even be another giveaway or two. And this is where you come in…

Which ONE book would you like me to read during 2015? It has to be something which you’ve enjoyed – nay, which has changed your life: let’s set the bar high! And it has to be fairly easy to get into. No heavy theological tomes, please, or political biographies. Life-stories of 18-year-old reality TV stars are welcome. I would LOVE to hear your suggestions in the comments section below, or via Facebook or any other way you know of communicating with me. But you can each only recommend ONE book – so make it a good ‘un!

The second challenge follows tomorrow…

Happy new year, fellow desert-wanderers!