It's that time of the year when most everybody is still on the resolution list, having scrawled out matters of resolve that we know lie just within reach of our personal reality. It's an annual ritual that we trudge through year after year only to find the sludge of disappointment and discontent on our boots way before the year's end.
There is something about January 1 that brings with it a pollyannaish prospect of what could be in the next 364 days. It's a time we feel we can sweep the old under the rug and consecrate ourselves to a "good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me" posture that will transform us into the anti-ourselves we are today.
Part of what we feel is right and true. We know things could and should be better. We know that things are not the way they ought to be.
The problem is that, for many of us, this sentiment does not seem to linger on beyond mid-January. Our steely resolve disintegrates quickly into apathetic inaction. Our arms get heavy holding our boot straps. Realism rears its ugly head. And boy, that reality is hideous.
An equal tradition we find ourselves mired in each year are New Year's unresolutions. Attempting to fundamentally transform ourselves today only to turn around a few days or weeks later to chuck the whole kit and caboodle.
I've thought a lot about this and I think it has to do with the fact that we aren't really making resolutions - we are making aspirations. Ambitiousness isn't bad. It's just that being aspirant is different than an unwavering declaration of "sticktoitness."
A resolution is defined by a firm decision to do or not to do something. A hope or ambition of achieving something is the definition of an aspiration. The difference is transparent.
Resoluteness versus optimism. One is grounded in the concreteness of a unbendable determination. The other is laid lightly on the sands of an aspiring hopefulness. When the winds of our old ways come gusting through, our hopes give way to indifference and another list of resolves are carried out into the ocean of regret. Our resolutions dissolve into what will become yesterday's wishes.
For some of you, you find yourselves in the "grit-your-teeth" stage of life. You know that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. You've failed again and again and you're infuriated. You've persuaded yourself that you need to be more resolute so you stake out more resolute resolutions. You've decided to jab your heels into the ground and go for it with a more intense and focused firmness.
The apostle Peter once made a steadfast declaration to Jesus, his earthly mentor and friend. Hours before Jesus' arrest, he was describing to his friends, the disciples, the prophesy foretold by Zechariah about his death, "For it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."
Peter was miffed by Jesus' words that his friends would desert him. He responded, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Jesus quickly replied, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."
Flabbergasted by this proclamation by Jesus, Peter restated his pointed determination: "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" Death was better than denial in Peter's eyes.
Jesus was right. Peter would deny he knew Jesus three times in the courtyard outside of the city's legal system, the Sanhedrin Council, just hours later. We don't know exactly what came over Peter, but we can infer that his resoluteness faded quickly in the face of opposition. Sound familiar?
It didn't matter that Peter intended to be more unshakable. He still faltered. Miserably. The exceedingly resolute Peter became irresolute in an instant. His fall was a long-range fall.
Like Peter, pledging your unwavering loyalty to your resolutions this year might not work. Trying harder may not work for you either. You may be more serious than you've ever been. You may be more motivated than you've ever been. The line between an aspiration and a resolution is paper thin.
Peter's experience is a window into the actuality of the human experience. We will never reach our own expectations, no matter how earnest we think we can be. This is not fatalism, this is realism. And the gap between our dreams and reality will never close with a little more elbow grease.
The good news for you is that Jesus was determined to not give up on his friend, Peter. In Luke 24:34, we see that the resurrected Christ had a private meeting with Peter where we can assume he privately restored him. Peter had failed his Savior, but the Savior would not fail Peter. Thus, Jesus shows us that he will never fail us either. Jesus' resolve never betrays. Herein we find the key to how we get better.
Pastor and author, Tullian Tchividjian says, "Thankfully, the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed, but the work of the Redeemer. When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!"
He goes on to say, "I'm most deeply grateful...that God's love for me, approval of me, and commitment to me is not dependent on my success and resolve, but on Christ's success and resolve for me. The gospel is the good news announcing Christ's infallible devotion to us in spite of our lack of devotion to him...no matter how weak and unsuccessful your faith and efforts may be, God is always holding on to you."
Tchividjian is right. The greatest news for you this year is that while you may not keep the resolutions you specify, you can depend on a God who is resolve in his love for you.
Human resolve may come and go but the resolution of God's grace towards us is an unending well we can draw upon for an eternity. And that is the most important resolution that there is.
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