So, a new year has begun. The fireworks displays are no longer burned on our retinas, the echoes of Auld Lang Syne have faded away and whatever passes for normal life is being resumed just as it was in 2018. Of course there are a few differences: we have to get used to writing 2019 on letters, cheques and so on but in reality not a lot has changed in the changing of the calendar year.
Except that at the start of a new year we are encouraged (or perhaps challenged) to think of new things. In the days of paper diaries I used to love having new, fresh pages to write on. I would resolve that this year I would write neatly (that lasted until the first time an entry had to be changed). And resolutions are the flavour of the month in January, aren’t they?
We resolve to be fitter, healthier, happier, more efficient, better organised, more eco-friendly, more friendly… any number of possibilities for a new and improved version of yourself. It’s the lifestyle equivalent of having a new diary with fresh pages – so may possibilities to improve and enhance our life and establish a hoped-for better-than-last-year feeling.
It’s been interesting this year to notice how many people are suggesting on social media that you don’t need a ‘new you’, you should be content with the you that you are. And I agree with that, to an extent. Nobody should feel under pressure to create or innovate a new way of being simply because others have led them (or advertisers have conned them) into believing that they are not good enough, they don’t have enough of the right things in their life and that they ‘should do better’ (to quote many of my school reports).
But I also want to say that being content with the me that I am does not preclude me from wanting to be the best me that I can be. I know that there is always room for improvement. There are always ways in which I can better fulfil my purpose in life. They will always be new experiences, new people and new opportunities that will shape me so that I am not the same ‘me’ that I was last year.
So how do we hold these two in tension? I think the answer is to recognise where the motivation comes from. If it is external we should regard it with suspicion and caution – does that influencer have my best interests at heart or someone else’s (including theirs)? If it is internal we should treat it seriously, weigh it, evaluate it and if we want to pursue it then we can do so with the liberty of someone who is not under duress.
That does not mean we should not listen to other people or take their advice. Neither does it mean that we should always listen to our own whimsical ideas and act rashly. Wisdom is required. Discernment is beneficial. Because if you want to be the best you you can be I am fairly sure that there is always more that can be done – the art is to work out what that is, whether it is achievable, and to work towards it diligently and enthusiastically.
In the Bible the book of Ecclesiastes seems to be a book that is full of doom and gloom. Everything is deemed to be meaningless and pointless. It could have been written by Eeyore, AA Milne’s lugubrious donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. Yet right at the end Eeyore (or possibly the King) comes to a startling conclusion, having looked at the whole of life (Ecclesiastes 12):
13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Fearing God is not being terrified of him, but having a sense of awe about him. Keeping his commandments is not about following a rulebook but living sensibly to get the most out of life. And knowing that you can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes means we can live openly and honestly. And because there’s a sequel to the Old Testament (aka the New Testament) we know that God has also done all that is necessary to deal with the parts of us that need some more serious renovation.
Be blessed, be a blessing