Seeking A New Years Absolution

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December 31, 2011

If you’re looking for conversation starters this week, try asking people if they’re making any New Year’s resolutions. People will generally respond in a few different ways.

The true Anabaptist response is that a good Christian shouldn't need an externally enforced ritual to cleanse their life and so waiting for a Jan. 1 start date to purge yourself of impurities would be very un-Mennonite, and allowing yourself a Dec. 31 end date is even worse.  That would be the right answer, but sometimes being theologically correct spoils the fun of a conversation.

Some other people think the whole idea of New Year's resolutions is beneath them, as though there were nothing they could swear off or no promise they could make that would in any way make their life better or make them any easier to get along with. These are probably the kind of people who think they are doing you a favour just by talking to you, so just smile and nod when they tell you how silly this practice is.

Some people have tried and failed in the past and have given up hope in doing it again. But don’t let them change the topic. Ask them what they tried giving up. Ask them how they failed. They might tell you some funny stories about how they caved in and how they’ve come to terms with their own lack of willpower, or they might tell you to mind your own business, but I think it’s worth the risk.

Some people, even in the first few days of this week, will have already given up. They went to bed on New Year’s Eve wanting to make a change in their lives, and in the few days since then have already succumbed to their internal temptation. You might want to rethink any plans to cooperate with them on job related tasks or church committee assignments.

Some people will say that yes, they have made a New Year’s resolution, but when you ask them what they resolved, they’ll tell you it’s something generic, like being nicer to people or to smile more. We both know these are improvements, but if there are no tangible, measurable means of success, it is doomed to failure. Tell them you’ll check in on them later to see how they’re doing with it. They’ll probably be happy to hear that, and probably happier if you don't follow through.

The last group are the most inspiring ones. Even in the first week, it's great to see them still holding on.  They will soon start to feel the excitement that comes from sticking to a plan.  They will soon start to see that the thing they wanted to do to improve their life is actually improving their life. By telling you about the resolution they needed to make, this kind of person is being open about their weaknesses.  By telling you about their early successes, they invite you to share in their joy with them.  Even if you are a little bit jealous, this is a good person to talk to.

A few years ago I resolved to avoid one particular restaurant for a whole year. I had been going there a little too often and their food was a little too unhealthy. By some miracle, I lasted all year. In 2011, the second year, I added other restaurants to that list. Here and there however, I failed. I not only visited the newly banned establishments, but also the previouslya banned one. I didn’t feel terribly guilty, after all, it is only a New Year’s resolution and I had good reasons. What I felt was far more interesting than guilt. The food didn’t taste good. My stomach didn’t feel good. Somehow my temporary abstinence had reminded my body that this stuff wasn’t good for me.

Even though the promise I had made at the beginning of the year had been broken, I still mostly avoided those places. It wasn’t out of a legalistic adherence to my promise or in response to my convictions in some theoretical statement I held as truth. This time I actually understood what I needed to do.

My New Year's Resolution this year is to lose 10 pounds (I could probably afford to lose more).  So, while I may have better discipline with regards to a few restaurants, I still haven't fixed the overall health situation.  Removing a few unhealthy foods didn't absolve me of the consequences of unhealthy living.  Internalizing the values of one resolution also didn't mean I no longer had to discipline myself.  Discipline and self-denial are only part of the solution, we all need to proactively repair things, even after we stop causing harm.

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