In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal, I tackle the issue of New Year’s resolutions. I probably come across as grumpy — since I am — but I don’t like ‘em.
Be It Resolved
By the Rev. Tim Schenck
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t have plenty to improve upon (just ask my children). I just find the whole set-a-goal-simply-because-the-calendar-has-changed to be a false dynamic. I’m also not a big fan of noisemakers but that may be a personal problem.
I don’t begrudge anyone else’s New Year’s resolutions and I wish them luck even as they crowd me out of the gym in January. If you’re motivated to lower your cholesterol or quit smoking or organize the files in your office because you’ve received a complimentary 2010 calendar from the local travel agency, more power to you.
But unfortunately the percentage of Americans who keep their resolutions is miniscule. Well, technically the percentage is infinitesimal but you get the point. And failed resolutions lead directly to guilt. Which is a tough way to start a New Year. Ask anyone who’s started previous years on various fad diets – Atkins, South Beach, Nantasket Beach, whatever.
Guilt is a great motivator, of course. But you simply cannot sustain a new discipline – whether that’s a diet or an exercise program by guilt. What starts off with the best of intentions turns into a downward spiral of guilt and depression. There are exceptions, of course. Like Jared from those Subway ads. But every time I see him on TV these days his midsection seems to be miraculously covered by a table or the head of a small child or a “$5 foot long.”
No doubt there’s something refreshing about New Year’s. We all need the occasional fresh start, blank slate, new beginning. Though actually I find the whole notion of being wedded to a calendar an artificial way of relating to both God and time. I know you’re thinking “Wow, that’s deep” or perhaps “I wish he’d resolved to stop writing,” so let me explain. In Psalm 90 we hear that “a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by.” In other words, God’s sense of time has little in common with our own. God is not constrained by calendars or clocks. God is not limited by human attempts to control or harness the ethereal notion of time. That’s what calendars and clocks are, after all.
Oh, they’re necessary. Otherwise our daily lives would devolve into disorder and chaos. And I’d miss “The Office” on Thursday nights. But we don’t own time. We plan, we resolve, we waste time, we maximize time but it’s ultimately not ours. We’re living not on borrowed time but on God’s time. And the sooner we recognize this, the better we’re able to enjoy the time we do have in this mortal life.
Not to be a party pooper but I guess my aversion to over-the-top New Year’s celebrations is that they always feel somehow like “forced fun.” When I was in the Army that’s what we used to call battalion events that were supposed to be fun – playing tug o’ war against the neighboring platoon – when we’d all rather be hanging out on our own. And anyone who needs a made-in-China noisemaker to show everyone what a good time he’s having needs a new definition of joy. Plus, have you ever seen anyone wearing those glasses shaped liked the New Year at any other time? I’d be impressed if someone wore 1984 glasses while shopping for deodorant at Wal-Mart. If only for the Orwellian overtones.
Perhaps what really bothers me about New Year’s resolutions is that they’re so inwardly focused. How many New Year’s resolutions have you heard about that do something for someone else? They tend to be self-improvement centered – lose weight, eat healthier, etc. Which, again, is nice but hardly does much to improve the world around us.
So here’s a challenge: if you need a New Year’s resolution, resolve to do something beyond yourself. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s walk; have coffee with a friend with whom you’ve lost touch; pray for a family in need; send the money you were going to use to download 10 new songs on your i-Pod to the Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry. And then resolve to turn these one-shot deals into yearlong habits. If you do any of these things, I’ll resolve to be less grumpy about New Year’s resolutions.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Visit him on the web at http://www.frtim.com where you can access his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”