It’s finally January. The days are shorter, yet our list of self-improvements become longer.
The New Year always seems to involve “fixing” your body, or your personality, or yourself in general. Our culture has made it so easy to see life as one big self-improvement project, a cycle that is difficult to recognize and nearly impossible to overcome. Although I believe that resolutions can be great tools, they also can be harsh condemners. The pressure of making a tangible change in your life can go from a nice intention to a huge disappointment.
Of course, some lucky few can keep their resolutions, shed fifty pounds, perfect the keto diet, and join a book club. Yet, others of us may have forgotten to stay consistent and are left with a big pile of unmet expectations to clean up afterwards.
I have no issues with a nice resolution, per se, but I do wonder about our perception of ourselves. We seem to think of important pieces of our journey as negative and in need of repair. The subpar can be anything from how white our teeth are and how our butt looks in the mirror to how depressed we feel and how to fix that seemingly eternal fatigue.
What if we looked at each unsatisfactory aspect of our lives as something else altogether? What if we recognized that if God isn’t taking the thorn out of your side maybe he is teaching you to live with it?
Of course, I would never suggest that God wishes for us to live out our days with no goals or resolutions. In fact, if these resolutions were put on our hearts by God, he will certainly use them well. However, what is most important is for us to resist focusing on our perceived lack and turn our eyes up on Jesus.
When we love Jesus, we automatically take care of ourselves. All those stereotypical “resolutions” can become more automatic of daily living. We wish to fuel our bodies in ways that is life sustaining and not toxic, we wish to move in order to maintain healthy muscles and bones. It becomes not for appearance but as a means of worship to the Lord.
In Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, Solomon said “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” When we try so hard, anxiously, to achieve the forms of perfection that we have contrived in our minds we begin to set goals that are too heavy to accomplish. It morphs from an act of worship to an act of obsession. We illustrate detailed strategies to have our lives “together” all the time. We read articles over how to make our lives better. We stay of late with worry, wondering whether we got it right.
But God called all of this meaningless and futile.
In times of fresh start, like New Years, we must take time to discern what our purpose is.
Ecclesiastes, if you have not had the pleasure of reading it, is quite confusing for us on earth. You see, we like having our lives mean something. We like to think that we are living life “to the fullest” (whatever that means). But Ecclesiastes teaches us, through Solomon, that “Everything is futile, a pursuit of the wind” (1:4), as for possessions “there is nothing to be gained under the sun” (2:11) and it even warns “do not be excessively righteous and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” (7:16).
These teachings are highly countercultural today.
What do you mean, fitting into a size two my whole life is… futile?
Jokes aside, I think that these ideas are incredibly freeing. The idea that our life on earth is futile means that our worldly possessions and money just don’t matter. In fact, nothing would matter on this earth if it weren’t for God. Because of him, our lives on earth might be meaningless but the life we are building in eternity lasts forever and is of the greatest importance.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul says “Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’”
Can you imagine that? This is Paul, one of the most prominent teachers of the gospel. His life on earth, the clothes he wore, the food he ate, was futile. But God used him through this futile life to turn others toward Jesus. And even this guy, who God used in so many great ways, had a thorn in his side—perhaps a sin—that he could not shake although he pleaded with the Lord three times.
If Paul was on Earth today, maybe his resolution would be to get rid of this thorn. But God said “no” time and time again. This thorn was a weakness sent to remind Paul to rely on God and only God. Maybe God has allowed thorns to enter our lives to help us turn towards him.
So, this year, make your goals and resolutions. I hope and pray that you keep them all. But for you who are reading this and thinking of something you just can’t shake, whatever that is, allow God to shed his forgiving light on you. HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU. It is enough for me when I am being a worry wort, it is enough for you when you accidentally skip a week of exercise, or commit a sin, or have a bout of depression (etc.).
He will show up for you this year, even in the doubt, even with the thorns.