I really try to avoid writing New Year’s Resolutions articles. They just seem so clichéd, something that I could write full of classic one-liners, but void of any real meaning.
But every year, the importance of the New Year season just keeps coming back to me again and again. Because, actually, there is meaning in this season and there is good in taking time out to reflect as well as look ahead to the next year.
We live in cycles and seasons. Just like God formed creation to move in certain rhythms—day and night, summer into autumn and winter into spring—so do our lives.
God teaches us throughout the scriptures about the weekly rhythms of work and sabbath, but the calendar year is another great way of placing a marker in our lives, a way to track time and the seasons we journey through. Another month and year passes, with a fresh page before us for the next chapter.
Traditionally, people set goals at the New Year like losing weight, spending less money, or quitting a bad habit. Unfortunately, it has also become tradition in the Western world for these goals to lie forgotten only weeks, if not days, later.
Over the past few years though, I’ve come to realise that this particular New Year place marker presents a much richer opportunity than just mindlessly setting a couple of tick-box goals. Here are three things that I like to ponder at the New Year.
While it’s important to look ahead with dreams for the future, it’s equally important to look back on the season passed—the joys, the losses, the hard lessons learned, and the victories conquered.
Pete Greig, founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement, shared on social media last year that as part of his New Year season, he spends time flicking back through his diary and journal day-by-day to help him reflect on the past year.
A year can feel like it flies by so quickly (anyone else constantly ask themselves, ‘Did that really happen this year?’), so looking at something tangible and seeing our events, prayers and reflections written down in our own handwriting can be really useful to help us remember the good and bad days gone by.
Humans generally have a terrible memory, so we need to remind ourselves of the journey, how it’s shaped us into who we are today, and, above all, God’s faithfulness through it all.
For the past few years, a word has continually come to mind and consumed my thought-life within the first few weeks of January. Never being one to really believe in coincidences and instead trusting that it’s the Holy Spirit gently nudging me, I’ve really taken hold of each word—wrestled with it, meditated on it, chewed on it.
It’s amazing how that word has come back to me again and again throughout the year, slowly revealing more of its meaning to me and helping transform me more and more into who God wants me to be—2016 was the year of humility, 2017 was the year of joy, 2018 was the year of adoration, and 2019 was the year of discipline.
As this year begins to unfold, I’m again asking the Holy Spirit to reveal my word for the year ahead, knowing that it will add focus and clarity to what God is teaching me over this next yearly cycle and season.
While it is good to seek self-improvement through setting goals, this can often be a tricky balance for the Western world, as our expectations can skyrocket and get out of hand.
‘New year, new me’ isn’t necessarily the most realistic approach when you aim to flick a switch on the magical date of 1 January and suddenly start this perfect, disciplined, healthy, happy life that you’ve been envisioning.
Don’t get me wrong, these New Year resolutions work for some people, but the problem is that they often set the bar pretty high and set your self-esteem pretty low when you find yourself two weeks later not doing any of it.
Instead of these tick-box goals, I’ve changed my focus to postures of the heart. Instead of ‘reading my Bible every day’, I want to be a lover of the Word. Instead of ‘going to the gym every day’, I want to be a good steward—of my body and my mind, as well as the material resources God gives me. I want to be joyful and focus on praise and adoration.
All of these things stand on a continuum—if I can be a little more joyful than I was yesterday, or love the Word more than I did a month ago, then I’m heading in the right direction, and that should be celebrated.
Sure, some of these postures will require action and discipline—being a lover of the Word will require me to read my Bible regularly—but I like to think of these as daily rhythms to imbed into my day-to-day life, rather than goals. There’s no pass or fail—only stepping further along the journey.
Despite the cliché, the New Year does have a certain magic about it. In the scurry of summer sales and Christmas Day food comas, it’s easy to think of a few token goals just to jump on the bandwagon, without the practice actually being meaningful at all. And that’s if you don’t ignore it completely!
But when we take the time to really let God speak into our lives as 1 January ticks over, it can set us up well for a year of greater discipleship ahead.
May this New Year place marker in your journey bring you closer to God as you take time to pause and reflect.
By Rebecca Howan