Starting Over


Did you make New Year’s resolutions for 2011?

Here are some statistics on new year’s resolutions:

  • 40 to 45% of adults make at least one.
  • The most popular resolutions focus on health and money.
  • 75% keep them past the first week (which means that ¼ don’t).
  • 64% keep them past the first month.
  • 46% make it all the way into July.

And this little factoid was the kicker for me:

  • Those who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who don’t.

Have you ever made a new year’s resolution? And has that resolution ever focused on your spiritual life: your prayer practice, your church involvement, your walk with God, your journey of faith? If not, is this the year to start?

But before we go too far down that road, let’s get something straight: there is nothing magical about the turning of the calendar. Nothing of significance happens on January 1st in any kind of theological, liturgical, astronomical, or metereological way.

The choice of that date goes back to Julius Caesar. It was the day on which new consuls were chosen. So the year starts when it does because of an ancient political practice that has no relevance anymore whatsoever. Besides which, we’re not even on the Julian calendar anymore; we’re on the Gregorian calendar, which corrected for the actual orbit of the earth around the sun with things like leap year. In other words, we celebrate January 1 because it is January 1. Happy Circular Logic Day!

According to the Christian calendar, we’re still in the middle of the Christmas season. The Greek Orthodox Christmas doesn’t happen for almost another week. The stores have long ago put away their decorations, but the church is, supposedly, still in the midst of celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Even so, we should admit that there is power in numbers. News shows spend hours talking about the year that just passed and trying to predict what the new year holds. That date, that 1/1, seems so clean and fresh! It’s the closest we get on the calendar to pushing reset on the odometer. And even though it will take us a while to remember to write 2011 instead of 2010, the very fact of forgetting is a reminder that something new is underway.

Is there something that we can gain from January 1 as a time to “start over”? Is there wisdom in setting goals, resolutions, for ourselves, as arbitrary as the date itself may be?

Have you ever made a promise to yourself to exercise more? It always seems that such a promise come only after long periods of not exercising. And so, the first few days are brutal. By day two or three, the extra sleep seems far more appealing. The soreness in the muscles could use a day’s break. We might hear ourselves saying, “Missing one day won’t kill the routine…” – but we all know that it will. So if we’re persistent, we keep slugging it out until exercise simply becomes a seamless part of our day. We wouldn’t skip it any more than we would skip a meal.

The trick is in resisting life’s interruptions: sickness, travel, injuries, trauma, stress of any kind…They knock us off track. And for a lot of us, that’s when we lose the practice. So if that’s the case, why even bother?

If the possibility that we might not succeed becomes the excuse for not trying at all, then we have truly entered the world of circular logic.

It reminds me of the ancient Christian practice of fasting. From the time of Christ, and even before, fasting has been an important spiritual discipline. The early Christians picked up on it. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, it had become cemented not only as required, but also required at particular times of year – namely, during the season of Lent, leading up to Easter.

The great theologian and preacher John Calvin was one of those who resisted the idea of required fasting. He even went so far as to hold a public barbeque in the middle of Geneva on Good Friday, the fasti-est of all fasting days. Calvin went on to clarify in his writings that his objection was not to fasting itself, but to the idea of prescribed fasting. Fasting was indeed something that faithful Christians should do; but it was not required to do during particular seasons of the year. Our problem is that we seem to have remembered the second part and forgotten the first, and so few of us regard the practice of fasting as either good or worthwhile, let alone required.

There’s a strong parallel in the new year. Because it’s an arbitrary date, there’s no reason, no requirement, to start over on January 1. And that’s true. But if we don’t do it then, do we ever bother to try?

Here’s the truth that today’s texts remind us of: we can always start over with God; we should always start over with God; and now is as good a time as any to try.

The God whom we worship is the God of creation. It is the God of “in the beginning”, when the Spirit first breathed over the waters of chaos and the Word first came forth: “Let there be…”…and it was good. And that same God is the God whom we know in Christ; not a new God, not a New Testament only God, but that same God who was at creation in Word and deed. It is the same God in Christ who was born in a manger, who has been with us, is still with us, and will be with us always.

With God, any day is a good day for us to start over, because God is constantly creating and re-creating each and every one of those days.

When we make music, when we sing (or “make a joyful noise”, as the case may be), we are channeling that same creating Spirit of God. Whenever we make something, be it art, or a product, or life, or family, or community, or an act of mercy, it is that same Spirit of God creating through us. And so, God is constantly at work, from Genesis 1 to John 1 to January 1, moving, breathing, shaping, creating. And we are the vessels of that heavenly music!

Will you join me today in an invitation? As we begin this conversation of “starting over” for the next few weeks, as we turn the page on the calendar and move into a new year, will you make room in your life to start over with God? Will you make yourself one promise that you will do everything you can to keep in 2011? Perhaps you want to:

  • Make time for prayer every day – not just talking to God, but listening. Or…
  • Commit yourself to going deeper in your relationship with and knowledge of God – sign up for one Connect group this year, a chance to learn, to study, to grow. Or maybe…
  • Promise to be here each and every Sunday – not because there is “stuff to do”, but because it matters to God that you’re here; and it is a place where you can create and build community in a world that is crying out for connection. Or even…
  • Make time each week for Sabbath, for worship and refreshment – it’s the one commandment that we almost celebrate when we break it, proof of how important we are because of how busy we are. If rest is good enough for God, it’s good enough for us.

Take a moment right now to make that note for yourself. Put it in the comments below, write it on a scrap piece of paper, put it into your iPhone. Commit yourself to that one thing that will strengthen your relationship with the same God whose deepest desire is to be in relationship with you.

Take a look at that promise each and every day this year. And what happens when life interrupts? Well, that’s the beauty of it. God is still at work, whether we are or not; and so we can always start over.