December 29, 2012 by Kaleb Nyquist
New Year’s is easily one of my favorite holidays. It is not merely about gathering with friends and family and watching fireworks (after all, 4th of July is pretty much the same thing but much warmer). New Year’s is a worldwide party, with some sort of celebration in just about every time zone, a moment to reflect upon the year that has gone and to embrace the year that is to come.
As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Yes, the passing of time does bring the bad alongside the good, but the passing of time also gives our lives – and our world – a certain richness that would not exist if things always stayed the same. New Year’s may not explicitly be a Christian holiday, but I believe Christians can embrace it in beautiful ways.
One tradition worth talking about is the New Year’s resolution: a commitment to achieve a personal goal, change a habit, or just better our lives in general.
A New Year’s resolution can be anything from learning how to play an instrument, to following through on a new diet + exercise plan, or volunteering more often with a local nonprofit. They can be ambitious as choosing to recycle everything possible or as modest as flossing your teeth each night. A few New Year’s resolutions are more spiritually oriented, like spending some minutes in prayer each morning.
From a Christian perspective, any New Year’s resolution that guides us into being more able to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength” is a terrific resolution indeed. All the above I just listed could potentially count.
But as we look forward to deciding our New Year’s resolutions for 2013, it might be helpful to remember what a New Year’s resolution is not.
First off, New Year’s resolutions are not going to make any of us perfect people. For Christians, we know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the only way back is not through some new exercise routine but rather through the cross.
Secondly, a New Year’s resolution is not is a Lenten sacrifice. I want to spend a little more time on this point because I think, in recent years, there has been some confusion for Christians who observe Lent (which many North Side Youth Collision churches do).
Some of you may not know what Lent is, and that is okay. Lent is the forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter, a time of reflection on the sacrifice of Jesus. In the Evangelical Covenant Church, Lent is a choice, not an obligation – meaning churches can decide whether or not they wish to observe it.
Traditionally Christians would observe the Lent season with a “fast” – either giving up meat or some sort of meal. In recent years, individuals have gotten more creative with their Lenten sacrifices, in ways that may be more personal and powerful to them.
One of my favorite Lenten sacrifices I ever got to see unfold was when a rather introverted friend of mine decided to give up shyness. Each day he had twenty-four hours to walk up to someone whom he had never met before and introduce himself. My friend gave up the security of his close friends in order to discover that God is lord of all, even lord of awkward first impressions.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with being shy – certainly no more than there is in eating meat. In fact, on the other end of the spectrum, I have another friend who during his junior year of high school actually gave up talking for Lent!
I think this sort of sacrificial creativity is a good thing. However, ever since Christians have begun to customize Lenten sacrifices, the line has become blurred between Lenten sacrifices and New Year’s resolutions. It is helpful then for us to remind ourselves what the difference is.
Here are some definitions I like. A New Year’s resolution is a commitment made to better our lives, so that God can be glorified through us embracing the fact that the creation God made – from art to health to community – is meant to be good. Meanwhile, a Lenten sacrifice is a commitment made, for the relatively short time of Lent, to give something up about our desires, or even ourselves. Lenten sacrifices are made so that as we become lesser, God can become greater in us.
Another way to look at it is the difference between a diet and a fast. A diet, which is changes in how and what you eat, is supposed to make you healthy. We can all imagine why better health would be a good thing. A fast, however, which is abstaining from certain foods for a short period of time, is supposed to make you hungry. We usually (and for good reason!) do not think of hunger as a good thing. But when hunger is framed in the context of fasting it leads us to realize how little a thing our hunger is when compared to the greatness of God.
As philosopher Dallas Willard says, “Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food.” But what applies to giving up food also applies to giving up shyness, or giving up talking, or whatever other creative ideas we happen to be inspired with.
(Full disclaimer: I have never done a food fast. Not even a 30 Hour Famine. I just am too hungry all the time. The whole idea makes me rather nervous…which actually is a great reason for doing it.)
In some ways it may sound like splitting hairs, and I can think of at least 364 other things that are more important for Christians to realize than the difference between New Year’s and Lent. But on today, that one time of a 365-day long year, when Christians are considering what resolutions they are about to make and maybe even beginning to think about how they want to observe Lent, I think it is worth sorting out which is which.
If we turn what should be a Lenten sacrifice into a New Year’s resolution we are bound to burnout. Vice versa, if we turn a New Year’s resolution into a Lenten sacrifice, we are plodding into the dangerous territory of self-righteousness. While there is some overlap (for example, I know someone who gave up lustful behavior for New Year’s, while another friend gave up the same thing for Lent), we should at least double-check ourselves before making such strong commitments.
In any case, if you decide to a commit to either a New Year’s resolution on January 1st or a Lenten sacrifice on February 13th, be sure to tell your youth pastor or another leader of your youth group. They would love to encourage you and support you as you seek to take advantage of these times of the year to strengthen your relationship with God. Who knows, you might even inspire them to join in!
Kaleb is the student ministries coordinator for Ravenswood Covenant Church. In his free time, he likes to travel, go for runs, and play Mario Kart. He also thinks that North Side Youth Collision is the neatest thing since PB&J sandwiches.