I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always felt that goals made on an arbitrary day with a large group of people seem doomed to failure and don’t elicit actual change.
I prefer to make smaller decisions throughout the year and act on them immediately. For example, choose to avoid fast food in March or wake up on a Tuesday and start a habit of walking every morning. For me, making small adjustments as I go is part of living an intentional life.
Still, there’s something about a new year that makes most of us itch for change — a healthier diet or better exercise routine; more friends or a new relationship; freedom from bad habits or non-productive ruts. I’ve heard it said that we only change when we want to. That’s probably because transformation requires effort — exchanging old ways for new ones. Still, there is a lot of social pressure to force the change on January 1 even though, like a sugar rush, our resolve is likely to fade by mid-February.
The biggest transformation
I came across a refreshing perspective on the new year from Jess Connolly on Instagram. She said:
“POV: you realize you don’t have to become a ‘new you.’ Great news — you don’t need to become a new person this year. If you are in Christ, you are always being made new!”
She’s right. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” By giving us a new heart, new identity, and Jesus’ record of righteousness, God has already declared His children to be transformed from our old selves into new people with a new hope and purpose. That’s great news!
But He doesn’t stop there; as we walk with God week after week, year after year, we are in a perpetual process of growth and change brought about by His Holy Spirit. That frees us from having to be “new” each January.
So, if we’re already new creations who are in a Holy Spirit renewal program, what do we do with our freshly-minted goals and resolutions? Here are three healthy ways I believe we can think about change in the new year:
Don’t obsess about reinventing yourself. We all love a movie montage depicting transformation. When Mia Thermopolis straightens her hair and loses her unibrow in “The Princess Diaries,” it’s inspirational! And we’re bolstered when Rocky Balboa transforms from an insecure, small-time boxer to a heavyweight champion. But as I pointed out earlier, we have already been perfectly invented. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.
While the prospect of “reinventing” ourselves may hold the promise of greater happiness as a different person, a better approach is pressing into who God has created us to be and practicing good stewardship of ourselves. I used to worry that my laugh was too loud, or my natural vulnerability was off-putting. Once I accepted these aspects of myself, I saw how my laugh could encourage and my vulnerability could inspire.
Focus on inner renewal. While many New Year’s resolutions revolve around outer change, God’s transformation is all about the inner person. Resolutions are about me doing the work to change, but God offers unlimited transformation simply by drawing close to Him. For example, my goal may be to lose weight so my body looks better, but He’s interested in me developing self-discipline and stewarding my body well. Knowing He loves me the same regardless of what I look like frees me to engage in the process of sanctification, which is a “light yoke” and creates lasting change.
Romans 12:2 offers this reminder: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Allowing God to change my mind is what leads to the best and healthiest version of me.
Don’t rush change. While we might say we want change in the new year, often what we actually want is quick change. Like the movie montages where a weakling transforms into an athlete or an ugly duckling becomes a beauty queen, we crave an instant, life-altering transformation. That’s why resolutions often fail. Reaching goals and establishing different habits takes time.
2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Our spiritual transformation is taking place by increments. It makes sense that other areas of our lives would also be growing by degrees. When it comes to lasting change, faithfulness trumps speed.
Trusting the process
Last year was a difficult one for me that required a lot of patience, good counsel and falling at the feet of Jesus. I was encouraged again and again to “trust the process.” We all crave change, but maybe spending January coming up with ways to be new isn’t the best path forward. Instead, take stock of the ways God renewed you last year. How did you invest in the person He created you to be? What are some additional ways you can continue that investment in the new year?
New Year’s resolutions are fleeting, but God’s transforming work does not fade. So go ahead and start the exercise routine or jump on the dating app. Try new things and nurture new relationships that make life more worthwhile. But don’t worry about being a “new you.” The “you” you are today is more than enough for God to work with.
Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.