I’ve thought a lot about my New Year’s resolutions this year. Somehow it seems there’s more at stake than usual. The way you and I approach 2021 will impact not only our own experience, but also the lives of those around us, at a time we could all use a little quality-of-life improvement. Resolutions have ripples.
With that in mind, a few of my own:
I will seek to grow my ability to handle stress. Binge-watching old “Fixer-Upper” episodes and YouTube news bloopers is fun but demonstrably less than fully effective. My family and friends will thank me.
I will better develop the habit of gratitude by giving thanks for at least one thing a day even if it means I am thankful only for the option to stop video on Zoom calls so no one knows I’m leading the afternoon staff meeting in my pajamas.
I’ll reduce my 12-hour a day work-from-home pattern to a more reasonable eight hours. I just need to get away from the screens. I’m grateful for the tech that’s kept us connected but seeing the world through a computer is making me weird. When one day I actually thought about FaceTiming my wife when she was upstairs and I was downstairs I knew things had to change.
Speaking of which, I’ll invest more quality time into actual relationships, like with my wife and my friends.
I’ll support local business owners, who depend on us more than ever.
I’ll be more generous—not only with my resources but also (much harder) with my assumptions: I’ll choose to assume the best of others, including when they post critical remarks, disagree with my politics, or are ahead of me in line and moving v-e-r-r-r-y… s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y…
I’ll seek to contact at least one person a day to see how they are (really) doing.
That’s a partial list. An important qualifier: Resolutions can be motivating or draining. If they come from a place of “I will try harder to do better” you’ll be exhausted before January ends. But there’s another way to see them.
At the harbor one day I watched as two boats scudded through the waves. The first was a rowboat with several people straining at the oars. It went in a remarkably straight line, but whenever the rowers stopped, it quickly lost momentum.
The second was a small sailboat crewed by one person, powered not by human strength but by the breeze. It never stopped. Though she tacked in a zig-zag pattern instead of a direct line, the skilled sailor eventually reached the harbor far ahead of the rowers. And she looked a lot less exhausted.
Three lessons struck me.
First, sustainable personal change is less about pulling on oars and more about putting up sails. For much of my life I treated spiritual change as a rowboat. It took all my might to move, and whenever I lost focus, momentum stopped. Then I discovered what Jesus called “abiding in the vine.” It’s about plugging into the power already there from God—his transforming grace—not trying to improve through self-effort alone. All the resolutions above—about thankfulness, generosity, relationships—are sails that catch the breeze. The gratitude I’ll experience, the smiles I’ll see, the closeness I’ll feel—those will maintain my spiritual momentum as surely as wind drives a sailboat. Because those are all ways I experience the grace of God around me.
Second, no one will be 100% successful in their resolutions. You’ll be tempted to quit when you fail. But seeing resolutions through the lens of grace means even your failures (and the lessons they teach) are part of the tacking, zig-zagging path to your goal.
Finally, the same wind that blows one boat off course can bring another home. God’s grace is always there, even in difficulty. It’s the set of the sail—the perspective I choose—that determines the direction of the boat.
My prayer is that this new year will be better—not only because circumstances change, but also because we learn to respond to whatever happens with a perspective informed by grace.
Let’s set our sails wisely, receive God’s grace, and move forward into 2021. Happy New Year!
René Schlaepfer is senior pastor of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, www.tlc.org.