Soulful Pursuits: A One Day at a Time Kind of Life

Every December we are reminded that the year is almost over, and somehow it seems there is often a bit of relief that comes with that knowledge. Inevitably, the previous year has brought with it trials and tribulations, and when facing them, zero percent of people get it all right. So, we are often ready to wipe the slate clean and try again, armed with another year of wisdom under our belts and a little more courage. The promise, or at least the great hope, that accompanies the new year challenges our resolve to improve ourselves, our lives, the lives of our friends and family, and the world around us.

According to history.com, the concept of making New Year’s resolutions goes back as far as 4,000 years ago to the ancient Babylonians. Their resolutions were made as promises to the reigning king and to their gods. Early Christians used the first day of the new year to ponder past mistakes and resolve to do better moving forward. Today, most New Year’s resolutions are secular in nature. We promise ourselves to do better with our diet, to exercise more, and to focus on goal setting and achieving. Goal setting is a great thing. Making improvements to our lifestyle is a great thing. And being intentional about improving the way we approach and interact with those around us is definitely a step in the right direction.

I have always struggled, though, with the concept of New Year’s resolutions. I am not sure what my biggest hang-up is. I suspect it has something to do with how seriously I take commitments and how unforgiving I can be of myself when I don’t accomplish or follow through on my intentions. I hate feeling like I may have somehow set myself up for failure.

Nevertheless, a year ago, in January 2022, I got on the resolution bandwagon, and I set a goal to read a book every week for the entire year. 52 weeks…. 52 books. I love to read. It is a passion that I only discovered a few years ago. Since then, the number of books I have read each year has consistently increased. When I noticed that trend (thanks to iBooks, which keeps up with it for you), I thought, “Why not? I can do this!” So I did! I actually finished 52 books with two weeks to spare. BUT…. I think all it did was confirm in my mind that New Year’s resolutions are NOT my thing.

It started off ok. I was rolling right along, book after book, reading at a steady pace. As the year went on, however, this goal became a constant invader of my thoughts. It became a bossy voice, adding unwanted stress to the thing that was supposed to bring peace and quiet relaxation. It began to be the factor determining which books I could choose, based not on interest, but on length. Why did I do this to myself?! I’m sure you are wondering why I didn’t just stop. Exactly! Why didn’t I? I had only made the commitment to myself, so why didn’t I just renegotiate the terms of the agreement? If anybody could understand and give me grace, shouldn’t it be me? Nope! So, ladies and gentlemen, my New Year’s resolution for 2023 and beyond will be to have no New Year’s resolutions. I have proven I can’t handle it.

Obviously, my book reading goal was not a serious matter that fundamentally changed anything important, but this all got me thinking. I wonder if, for some of us, long-term outcomes could be more successfully approached from a one-day-at-a-time frame of mind. Obviously, I cannot just stop setting goals. I can’t stop trying to improve. I can’t let myself off the hook when it comes to attempting the hard stuff. I don’t want to be a slacker or a coward, and I absolutely care about the people around me and want to be of service to them. So, maybe my approach is where change is necessary.

As a Christian, anytime I need a change in my life, the first place I’m going to look for answers is the Bible. Just ask my kids. They tell me (with exaggerated eye rolls) I try to make every issue into something spiritual. Guilty! (Sorry, not sorry.) God thought of the answers to all my questions long before I knew to ask them; therefore, His Word is where I need to look to get educated for my next steps. So, what does the Bible say about New Year’s resolutions? Well, nothing exactly, but it contains a lot of wisdom for people like me who struggle:

  1. Lamentations 3:23 says, “Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh EACH MORNING.” Maybe this explains my difficulty with yearly resolutions. Perhaps trying to make 365-day commitments is just too big for some of us. If God thinks we need a brand-new start every morning, and He approaches us as a one-day-at-a-time type of creation, maybe we should take our cues from Him. After all, as our Creator, He understands us better than we understand ourselves, right? I know one thing… I am glad I am not weighed down with the sins I commit all year, having to wait until January first for the slate to be wiped clean. I think I’d also prefer not to be weighed down all year by the goals I set in January. Perspective, priorities, and plans… a lot can change over the course of a year.  I am a BIG fan of new mercies and fresh starts every morning. 

  2. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” This is one of my favorite verses. It gives me hope that even when I make the wrong turns, God can reveal my missteps, redirect my course, and keep me on a road that leads me toward His best for me. I know I have been guilty in the past of setting long-term goals and then being so determined to accomplish them, simply for the sake of completion, that I force a square peg into a round hole. My dad always said, “anything forced usually breaks.” Don’t force it! We must be able to recognize and set aside goals when it becomes clear their outcomes are no longer serving us. I guess that is why Jesus told us in Matthew 6 to pray, “May YOUR will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” If we put it all in His hands, then even when we set the wrong goals and make the wrong resolutions, God can and will get us back on track, ensuring His will trumps our plans every time.

  3. Matthew 6:34 says, “So, don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Let’s just say, one of my kids is a planner… and that is putting it mildly. He has been anxious about tomorrow, and next week, and “someday” for as long as he’s been alive. He once said, as a five- or six-year-old, “Childhood is the biggest waste of time.” All he could think about, even then, was getting past childish things and focusing on the more important adult endeavors he foresaw in his future. Poor kid. I have spent his whole life trying to convince him that God was using every day to grow him into the person who would eventually be equipped to accomplish those “important” things. That is true for all of us, no matter how old we get. If we don’t really live the experiences of today, we won’t be prepared for the tasks of tomorrow. If I decide in January where I want to be in December, I may ignore the lessons of March, April, and May, which clearly lead me in a different direction. One day at a time sweet Jesus… It just works better for me that way.

Obviously, I am not saying there is anything wrong with making New Year’s resolutions. Some people thrive within the structure of them. I am just not one of those people, and I know there are many others like me. Sometimes goals become oppressive. One of the good things that came out of my 2022 reading project was stumbling upon this excerpt from my 52nd book of the year, Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. “’You can’t plan your life, Finn,’ I say quietly, ‘Because then you have a plan. Not a life.’” That really struck a chord with me. While I want to be successful, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and be an overall blessing to others, I am one of those people who needs to wake up each morning asking God what decisions I can make, specifically for that day, to accomplish those things. Each today, if lived in preparation with good habits, strong morals, a solid foundation, and an overall idea of where you want to end up, will eventually add up to the beautiful life of your dreams. I am counting on it.


 

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