Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Promises, Promises

Happy New Year! 
'Tis the time for resolutions.

Have you been watching television lately?  Have you been struck by the number of ads that have appeared in print media with the barrage of mass mail fliers that focus on "self-improvement?" It is the time of year when organizations like Weight Watchers International, LA Fitness, South Beach Diet, Nutri-Systems and the like spend millions of dollars on media advertising to exploit the holiday indulgence in which most of us participate to guilt us into finding a "new you." Memberships soar in health clubs and diet programs at this time of the year all because most of us know that we need to make some changes in our lives.  The problem is that all these efforts focus on a "quick fix" rather than the real, lasting change necessary to reap the benefits of a truly "new me."

An interesting article appeared the other day in the Patriot News listing the New Years' resolutions for a number of well-known people in the area (including our own Bishop, Nathan Baxter!). What struck me is the number of individuals that deferred making resolutions for radical new behaviors and opted for more value oriented options -- that is, by focusing on elements of their lives that are "works-in-progress."  These options look more toward forming true habits of mind that can result in changed habits of living, some of which, entail simply taking a new attitude toward the continuing life situations that confront us.  In the language of life coaching, they are "value oriented goals" toward which we strive rather than specific targets, which we may or may not reach. They sound more like "make healthy choices" rather than "lose 25 pounds."

Because they are "value oriented" they speak to who we are - and whom we hope to become.

New Years' resolutions tend to be self-oriented.  They tend to focus on me alone (e.g. losing weight) rather than on how my choices have an impact on those around me.  Perhaps that is why they are so popular -- they are promises to myself rather than promises to others.  It is much easier to break a promise to myself since no one will hold me accountable -- except me.  And therein is the rub.  While it is much easier to break a promise to myself, finding forgiveness for breaking that promise is much more difficult that asking another to forgive me.  As these broken promises-to-self accumulate over the years, they begin to chip away at the self esteem that is so important for a healthy life in relationship to God.  We increasingly begin to think less of ourselves with the passing of time and sometimes reach the conclusion that we are unworthy of God's love and esteem.  Consequently, when Jesus tells us that that we must "love our neighbors as ourselves" we have so lowered the bar that we are unable to rise to that level of love which God in Christ has shown to us.  We are no longer genuinely able to "love one another as I have loved you."

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a reason why our collective self - our society - finds it increasingly difficult simply to do "the right thing" and instead opts for an ethic (a habit of thinking) that dictates first and foremost, "do what is right for me." 

I truly believe the Church has the answer to this conundrum: Christ. A truly Christian ethic (habit of thinking) turns outward rather than inward; places others first before our selves.  Resolutions for a new year in Churchspeak should focus our habits of mind, to paraphrase President Kennedy's Inaugural Address, on asking not that we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for others. This is the beginning of real community.  This is what tell the world who we are -- and whom we hope to become.

Happy New Year!