I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions yet, and it’s not because I forgot. My experience has shown the utter futility of such an exercise, and so I hesitate to engage in this sort of thing any more.
Everyone has their own theory for why such resolutions are doomed to failure. My own theory is that our culture of excess simply doesn’t support a regimen of reform hot on the heels of the holidays. There’s no denying that in the post-holiday season there’s a few things to regret, and there’s definitely some backsliding to overcome. But there’s always future excess to consider, and January sales and Valentine’s Day are but two examples of the allure of future diversions.
From another perspective, the timing of such resolutions is a little out of kilter. It seems to me that the business of self-discipline should precede the celebration rather than follow it. In the Church calendar both Advent and Lent lead to something bigger than themselves, and so there’s something to really celebrate. As it shakes out in the secular calendar, however, the run-up to Christmas is a weeks-long marathon of shopping and indulgence, capped by frenzied overindulgence, culminating in surrender to exhaustion. After all that, few of us have any residual energy to plunge into an intense program designed to turn our lives around.
Even so, this year I did not give up entirely on the idea, and for a while I considered a couple of counter-intuitive resolutions. Given my own poor track record with resolutions, why not capitalize on my inertia and go for something where failure would be its own reward? In that spirit I considered putting on a few extra pounds as a goal for the coming year. But with my luck this could be the year when I finally succeeded at a resolution, and I would regret my success. But if I failed, that would be terrific.
I also thought it might be interesting to try and arrive at morning prayer even later than I currently do. Of course success would yield some negatives; but if I failed, it could be interesting. For one thing, I could learn the first verse of many of the opening hymns that we sing. Plus, an early entrance would allow me to join in glaring at the late-comers. This would definitely be worth the effort.
I finally decided that the risks of this strategy were too great, and then it struck me. Taking a page from Tom Sawyer, I conceived a really attractive resolution: get someone else to do the heavy lifting. If I need to lose a few pounds, or if I need to improve my record on tardiness, why not delegate these responsibilities to someone far more competent than I? Specifically, why not enlist the best person I know? Why not let God do it?
To be fair to God on this, I owe him the idea. The other day as I mulled over the parable of the householder who put his servant in charge while he was away, it hit me. In the parable Jesus sets up a win-win situation. If the servant does well in something simple, then the householder is more than justified in conferring more responsibility. Both come out ahead. Conversely, if the servant botches it, the householder hasn’t lost all that much, and he’s learned a valuable lesson besides.
Then I realized that the parable could work in reverse. If God is so powerful, then why not give him a shot at showing what he can do for me? Just out of curiosity, why not give God responsibility for one of my problems and see whether he can do any better than I? And if God manages it well, well I’m certainly open to delegating even more responsibility to God. And if God does a really bang-up job, I might even consider giving him total control over my life, but only once he’s proven himself.
If all of this sounds unconventional, I have to say in my defense that I’m not the first to consider it. Saint Augustine, to cite but one example, was in complete control of his life and hesitated to delegate anything to God. “Lord save me, but not just yet” was his prayer. That shows just how difficult it is to turn over to God responsibility for even the puniest of our problems. But as Augustine later discovered, and as will we, the pay-off can be huge. Like him we’ll be surprised to learn that God is capable of far more than we expected.
I still have yet to make any resolutions eleven days into the new year, but “Let God do it” is definitely one I will consider. There’s one caveat that gives me pause, however. Do I really want God messing around in my life? Not for a minute do I doubt God’s best intentions. He will give us exactly what we ask for and more than we ever imagined. But is that what I really want for 2016? We’ll see.
+On 4-6 January we monks of Saint John’s Abbey were engaged in our annual winter workshop.
+On January 6th a big crowd joined in watching the burning of Stick House, a woven creation that has graced the entry road to Saint John’s for the last three years. It was made of sticks from our forest, and it was designed to last for two seasons. At the end of that time the plan was to burn it. But it was so well-built and so popular that they let it stand for an extra year. Over 100,000 people visited it; but its time had come, and up in smoke it went. The event drew a couple hundred viewers, and the festive atmosphere was accented by one person who doled out fresh-baked cookies. The burn lasted for all of eight minutes, and it was great while it lasted.
+On January 9th I flew to Phoenix, where on Sunday the 10th I spoke on The Saint John’s Bible at All Saint’s Episcopal Church. That evening I attended an organ recital by Dr. James Gerber, the organist at All Saints. He is an alumnus of Saint John’s, and it was nice to see him again after several years.
This time around the trip to Phoenix was larger than life. In the security line in Minneapolis I stood behind Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite writers, who grew up in Minneapolis. The plane was packed with Clemson and Alabama fans, heading to the national championship football game. To their credit, all were well behaved. On arrival in Phoenix, while I waited for a shuttle, I watched as a wife dropped off her husband and then sped off with his wallet in the back seat of their car. She didn’t hear his frantic cries, but we did.