The ball has dropped, confetti tossed! The whistles have blown, and the firecrackers and sparklers are sleeping in the rubble.
The old man of the year has staggered out and the babe of the new year bounces in with hopes and dreams of the coming 12 months. We make resolutions and set our course, but Monday comes, and where do we go from here?
It is easy to make plans and promises, but the rub comes when we must follow through. It becomes a matter of integrity. Are we men and women of our word, or are we tossed to and fro with every whim of circumstance?
Sir Francis Bacon said, “It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.”
In that light, it is not what we plan, but what we carry through with that makes our New Year’s resolutions meaningful. We can make elaborate schemes to be 50 pounds lighter, or to save $50 each month, but unless we have integrity, we will never have the power to make those changes. Integrity is the elbow grease that keeps our resolutions intact. We can make a thousand promises, but we will break every one of them if we do not have the willpower to say, “I will keep my promise no matter what happens.”
I was taught as a youth to make decisions before temptation arose. It is easier to say, “No” to illegal drugs or immoral behavior if we have preprogrammed our response. “No thanks, I’m not into that.” The more we rehearse it in our mind, the easier it is to say. Rehearse it long enough, and the response is automatic.
When we first start driving, we must think about putting the car in drive, turning on the blinker and pushing on the brake. We must constantly be aware of where our eyes are focusing. We learn to watch the center of our lane rather than oncoming cars. After a while, we do everything automatically. Our muscle memory takes over. When I taught my teens to drive, I cautioned them to always obey traffic laws because they were building muscle memory and habits that would become automatic.
We cannot expect to change when the clock strikes midnight. The old year has baggage we drag along like luggage. Sometimes the bag doesn’t have wheels to make it easier because we stuffed that bag with years and years of broken promises and worn-out resolutions. It’s not that we intended to drag so much weight, but we just kept putting it off with another flimsy promise. “I’ll start tomorrow. This is not the right eating plan. I’ll revisit it when I find the right one. I just can’t afford the $50 this month.” Those kinds of excuses mean the resolution was doomed from the beginning. With integrity, there can be no excuses – starts and stops yes, but no excuses for quitting.
So many of our resolutions are things we think will make us more appealing to those around us, rather than what will make us better people. We want to lose weight so we can resemble the supermodels of the day. We want to save money so we can buy more toys, or we want to improve our game (whatever it may be) so we can beat our opponent.
None of those resolutions are bad, they are just focused on what we want and not necessarily what God wants for us. Maybe God didn’t make us to be a supermodel, to have the latest gadget or be the best in the sports world. Maybe His plan is to make us a better father or mother. Maybe His plan is to make us a better neighbor or friend. Perhaps He wants us to be closer to Him even when there isn’t a crisis.
Sometimes it is good to take inventory of our character rather than examining the bathroom scale, our bank account or our game stats. How am I doing in the charity department? Do I have grudges tucked away in my heart that I take out and munch on every once in a while? Do I have time thieves that steal precious minutes from making relationships with people? Do I have hidden talents that I know would bless others, but I haven’t taken time to develop them? Those questions are big ones, and time is limited, so it would be a good thing to ask, as the rich young ruler who came to Jesus did, “What lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20 KJV). In modern vernacular, “What New Year’s resolutions do You want me to focus on?”
The answer won’t come in a list of 40 things. It will be a few or even one thing that would help you make significant changes in your life. Once when I was a missionary, I gave one of those kinds of prayers. The answer changed my life. I had been a negative, self-deprecating individual. I saw other people as brighter, better looking, more productive and closer to perfection than I would ever be. Every night I would tell my companion how awful I was and how unsuccessful I had been. I wanted her sympathy. One evening, to my surprise, she became angry and said, “You are too lazy to change! One of these days I will not be here to make you feel better. You need to take it up with the Lord.” In essence, she was letting me know that I needed to grow up. I took her advice and went to the Lord in prayer. I said, “Heavenly Father, I don’t like being this way. I want to change. What do I need to do?”
I didn’t hear His voice, but the answer came into my mind as clear as if He had been there with me. He said, “You must never tell yourself you are not worth anything again and tell your companion 10 things you have done right during the day.”
I thought that was an odd response, but I committed to do it. I told my companion about my answer, and she agreed to listen. At first, it was difficult to see any success because I had so much negative baggage. I would say, “I got up this morning. I didn’t get angry,” and so on. Gradually, it became easier until I could spout 10 things off in short order.
I was inspired to add another piece to my list. I started to tell my companion 10 things I saw that she had done right. It became a joyous ritual between us, and I continued it with other companionships and roommates. I was faithful about that commitment for a long time, and it changed my life.
Sadly, I let it drift away over time, but I had learned what the Lord wanted me to learn. I became a positive person who could talk about my strengths and weaknesses without embarrassment, but best of all, I could see others’ strengths and weaknesses, and I grew to love them more like the Savior loves us. I am certainly not perfect, but I know the path. Prayer makes a difference, but prayer with specific questions and listening for answers is life changing.
New Year’s resolutions made with God’s instructions will make the most difference in your life. He knows what you need. He knows how to remove the baggage of years past. He made it possible on the cross. He knows where the greatest treasures are to be found.
Perhaps He will be concerned about your weight problem or your bank account. Maybe He will give you some pointers on how to lose those unwanted pounds by giving you the eating and exercise plan that will give you the best results long term. Possibly, He will instruct you more perfectly on how to budget and spend money. He might even let you in on the secrets of how to improve your game, but certainly, He knows better than we do what changes we need to make. If we ask and act with integrity, our resolutions will be a blessing and not a new bag of unkept promises.