Optimism for the New Year

January 15, 2015

New Years Resolutions- I've come to know them as the bold declarations we make each January as we look to the new year with a shining faces full of childlike optimism. I used to share in the optimism with the same determined resolve to eat less sweets and floss more often. While these resolutions were made for my benefit, I always found my attention to them straying within a month or two.

For years I didn't bother to make resolutions with the excuse: "I'll just give it up anyways" and partially because the thought of going for a run makes me want to take a nap. But this year when the ball dropped, and I was already in bed, I wondered why I was so vehemently against making a new years resolution. Was I that lazy? Or did I just want to avoid examining myself and taking a fair assessment of my shortcomings?

I wondered to myself over the weeks, in the midst of disheartening news about the radical injustices in our world, terrorism and hate- what I could do to reduce the amount of ill nature in the world. How do I, as one person, make a difference in my own life and the lives of the people who surround me?

A human being is a complicated thing- no really! Each of us is broken and sinful and predisposed to fail in many areas of life. We mess up and bump against people, leaving each other damaged and hurt in an increasingly complicated world. But there is good in us too. We are all capable of kindness and compassion to those hurting around us. But to harness our goodness, we have to look at what we do that hurts others.

That may sound absolutely absurd to some. Society tells us that we are all great just the way we are. Don't ever change. Don't apologize. Do what makes you happy. I've heard these words in my own head whispering, "I'm pretty great. There's not anything wrong with who I am." But this is just me looking at myself, and the world, with eyes pressed shut and fingers stuffed into my ears. If I'm honest with myself I would tell you that I can be selfish at times, blissfully ignorant on the regular, bossy to a fault, and careless with my words. I could go on, but I like feeling somewhat good about myself and have the propensity to fret over how people think of me, so I'll leave it at that.

The truth of the matter is, my farts don't smell like Chanel and neither do yours. So I'm proposing that we all look to the new year with a new notion: we all are a little bit sucky, but we all have the propensity to be better. (My mom the dental hygienist requests that we all try to floss more too).

How do we do this? How do we make living in the world around us well... more livable? What kind of resolution do we make if this is our aim? Keeping in mind of course, that a resolution is just a goal- something we want to reach, a number on a scale or a paycheck we want to achieve; but goals are made for nothing if we don't have a course of action set in place to reach those goals. The trouble I ran into with my resolution is that I can't measure my effect on the world around me. I won't be able to say next December I sucked 52 kerfuffles less in 2015 than I did in 2014.

In my weeks of reflection, I came up with three things that I believe will help me navigate through a year that I'm sure will have its ups and downs: Awareness, Compassion, and Action.

My first goal is to be more aware. Aware of what? Calories? My underused gym membership? Sure I can spend the next few months denying myself chocolate, but in the grand scheme of things what does that add up to? No, my resolution looks at the health of my community, the people who I come in contact with. I have an uncanny ability to put up blinders when I encounter things that make me uncomfortable: illness, poverty, injustice. This year I'm taking off the blinders and unstopping my ears.

My second goal is how I want to respond to what I see in the blinderless world: with compassion. This means approaching the circumstances of others with the mindset of understanding. I believe that getting into this pattern of thinking will help us all to better comprehend the trials of life that others go through, that we may not experience ourselves. 

Thirdly, compassion and awareness are empty sentiments if they are not followed up by action. It's one thing to say to someone "I sympathize with your struggles" and it's another to give them a shoulder to lean on (sorry for the cliche). But I think this, the most important step to bettering the world around us, is the hardest to do. Why? Because it involves putting yourself aside and putting the needs of others before yourself be them spiritual, physical, emotional, or even monetary.

Our human nature and much of the conditioning of our society has made us self-centric beings. In the world of me it is easy to turn completely in on yourself and the struggles of your own life- to focus on your own sufferings. But it seems to me that every year the people of this world are dealt bigger and bigger blows. It is no longer just about me anymore.

As I pondered my new intentions for 2015, turning my eye to others and dying to self started to sound near impossible for those days when I get stuck in patterns of thinking that induce my anxiety. But I remembered that I have an ally for change in my life, and that is God. He placed upon my heart step one in my pursuit of being a better member of my community: seeking him first. It is only through of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we can be changed.

I probably won't write on this topic again because it is a personal goal- one I will without a doubt fail at on a regular basis and one I would feel insincere about sharing triumphs in. This process of becoming a more outwardly turned person will be difficult, but I believe this is a call God makes to all of us, the behaviors of which are aptly described in the book of Romans:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I've found the optimism again. This isn't a resolution to feel guilty when I break it because I have set an impossible goal for myself. I know that when I fail, God's grace is there to set me right. It is my fervent hope that I can be a better part of the world around me this year whether I'm at home or at work or at play- a more aware, compassionate, and an active force for good in this world. I hope all who read this and know me on a personal level will keep me accountable to this resolution. I also hope these words might inspire others to examine their own lives and the impact they have on their immediate environment. So cheers to 2015- let's do better.

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