For the last couple weeks, it’s been hard to ignore greetings that express some sort of hope for better things in a new year – and equally difficult to avoid questions about New Year’s resolutions.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been ambivalent about making resolutions. I don’t quite know why. Maybe my folks made me feel confident and basically good about myself when I was growing up . . .
I do remember trying to “be different” at the beginning of a new school year several times. Particularly in college, I would start a new semester with a fresh pack of highlighters and a pile of notebooks, ready to be an exemplary student for a change.
It usually lasted a couple weeks. I’d take copious notes and actually read assignments – for a while. Then I’d fall back into old patterns of getting by, BS-ing my way through discussions and tests. Fortunately for my GPA, it worked.
But it also gave me a sense for how difficult it can be really to change. And – with more than a dash of self-justification – I also began asking what was so wrong with the old me?
Years later, as I worked with churches and community groups on organizational development and goal-setting, I began to see another side of things and another way of initiating change.
Every organization – and every one of us – has strengths and abilities. Sometimes, particularly when our culture tells us that X or Y is the most acceptable way to be, we don’t recognize the strengths we do possess. If we don’t see them, we can’t utilize them.
So a process of initiating change begins with acknowledging what we already do well. And the best next step is to do something that builds on that existing accomplishment.
But that’s not how we usually deal with New Year’s Resolutions. We look in the mirror and see someone who is:
- a smoker
- a nail-biter
- whatever it may be.
We focus on that weakness and decide (with varying degrees of panic), “I need to change.” But we rarely affirm the many other aspects of ourselves – the positives, the skills, the talents. Instead, to contradict the old song, we “accentuate the negative.”
To put a religious spin on this, many people relate to faith in the same way – they focus on weaknesses, on failures, on what “thou shalt not” do. And most religions certainly contain as aspect of that, a set of standards to meet, a sense that there are expectations incumbent upon adherents.
But most religions also express a certain appreciation for believers, a note of approval for those who have “seen the light” or made a commitment. There is even, in the Bible’s wisdom tradition, a sense that being faithful is fairly simple, common-sensical and within anyone’s reach. In other words, God says that there’s a lot that is right with us.
If we believe that there is indeed “a lot right with us” – that God was telling the truth when looking down on that brand-new Creation and declaring it “good” – we’ll be able both to affirm our innate worth and have the foundation to make changes when we really need to.