I don't always begin January with a resolution. Last year at this time, I was in the throughs of recovery from bariatric surgery. I had lost about 50% of my excess body weight and my hope was that the surgical intervention would give me a leg up on the next half of loss. The following twelve months have been a blur: filled with joy and celebration, disappointment and discouragement, determination and hard work. As for my weight, I'm very close to 100% and am now celebrating nearly 90lbs of weight lost and nearly 20% reduction in body fat (!).
Part of me loves the idea of newness, of starting fresh, of commitment to change, of hope in a better life and better patterns. Another part of me thinks of the times when these revitalized emphases on change resulted not in new ways of living but in even worse examples of the status quo. Even in the sphere of health and weight loss - I can't even count the number of times this has been at the top of my list come January. And there I was, one year ago, making the most drastic changes I had ever tried.
It's funny, in American culture (and I'm assuming most others), every twelve months we rather arbitrarily decide that something new has begun. To this new stretch of months we tie these sorts of changes or challenges. Nothing fundamentally new or different has really happened. One could argue that the lunar cycles constitute an objective external rhythm, but even then, life in our bodies, in our homes, in our diets and in our relationships, just continues. Nothing really new has begun.
And yet it has.
In our celebration of the new year, in our obsession with resolutions, in our decisions to move forward in change, we demonstrate our unreconcilable commitment to hope. No matter how terrible our previous year has been. No matter how poorly the prior decade has gone, the vast majority of us (and I'd argue ALL of us, when we are at our best) cling to hope. We don't give up. We don't fold. We keep living and pushing and dreaming and challenging ourselves. And the new year provides an excuse to do just that. Of the many things that has been passed on to me by my prevailing culture, this is actually one of the things I'm most grateful for; the persistent dedication to hope in a better life.
One metaphor from the Hebrew scriptures comes to mind as I think of this. Repentance. You might know that the Hebrew word inculcates the literal picture of turning around on one's path. That, although I had been traveling in one direction, I can repent, and turn to travel in a different one. Repentance is sometimes regarded as a negative term or concept: 'sinners' are called from angry pulpits to repentance. As such, it conjures up judgment, condemnation, shame, or even abuse. For many of us repentance is something that is imposed on us from the outside, by someone else, in response to their judgment of our own lives. Some of this unflattering reputation probably is well earned. I feel sad though, that such a potentially powerful and helpful word is toxic for so many.
In the best possible light, repentance is the embodiment of hope. Repentance is what hope looks like when it colors a life. The only reason for repentance is the belief that a better future is possible: even attainable. Worth placing a bet on even. I make a turn on my path because I trust the path keeps going, that it leads me somewhere I need or want to go, that even though I can't see the end of it or guarantee I'll stay on it, I will yet go.
And so may you, this "new" year, find the courage to embrace hope. May you repent of a path that needs changing - and may you stay true to the ones you're already traversing. God is not finished with you - with us.