By the time you read this, it will be February. February is often the month where New Year’s Resolutions go to die. There are a bunch of statistics about New Years’’s Resolutions, but I take them with a grain of salt. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Despite Twain’s skepticism about statistics, it does seem true that many New Year’s Resolutions have been given up by the time February rolls around. Nevertheless, I do not think this is a reason for despair.
While it is clear that the beginning of a new year – or a new school year or a new semester or a new job or moving into a new house – can provide us with extra motivation to make a positive change, as I just indicated, January 1 is not the only beginning that can provide that motivation. February 1 can be almost as powerful a new beginning as January 1. For many people, it can be just as powerful.
In any case, the deeper changes that God invites us to make in our lives are rarely accomplished by a single New Year’s Resolution. It takes time to grow in prayer, in compassion, in the “fruits of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – see Galatians 5). Yet, it is possible for us to become more loving, kinder, more patient and to grow in self-control. Yes, it is possible for us to have more self-control even in our society which tells us that we need not wait for anyone or anything.
The hard truth is that the deeper changes in our lives come slowly. Maybe a February 1 resolution can help, but it will not be like many of the New Year’s Resolutions. New Year’s Resolutions are often vague (“eat healthy”) or too ambitious (“go to the gym for an hour every day”). But the habits that will change us are more subtle and seemingly not as challenging. Try “I’ll spend 5 minutes each morning in silence with God, and if I miss a day, that’s OK – 5 out of 7 days will be good enough to start.” Or maybe you can try, “When my teenager – or some other family member or friend who has a special gift for pushing my buttons – is talking to me and I start to feel angry, I’ll silently count to five and remind myself that I love this person before I speak.” Another possibility is to commit to consider each week, “How can I be generous to someone in need?” These may seem like small things, but they are do-able things and things which will make a difference in our spirits and in the world.
Sometimes change is dramatic. A person with a heroin addiction decides to go into rehab and get clean. A physically abusive person decides to get help and stop their violence. Those are dramatic changes, and God is at work in them. The world needs changes like that. Changes like that are a gift. But the more subtle changes are also a gift. When a person stops him/herself from speaking a harsh word, that is a gift. When someone makes a healthy choice, that is a gift. When generosity provides a hungry person with food, that is a gift. When prayer becomes a habit and a child of God is more deeply connected to Jesus, that is a gift.
Change sometimes comes in very visible and spectacular ways, and change often comes in subtle and slow ways. The changes that make us more Christlike are often in the second category, but that does not make them any less important or less real. Think of your own life. Are you closer to God now than you were ten years ago? Are you a little more patient? A little kinder? A little more generous? If you are, thank God and continue to grow. If you’re not, it’s never too late to start.
It’s February. It’s a great time to turn to God and start a small habit. Perhaps you could commit to saying,“Thank you” to one person this week who has helped you or encouraged you. Perhaps you could pray each day for one person you know who is in need. (It doesn’t take long. Even a simple “God please help _______” counts.) Small changes, over time, make big changes. God is always at work In our lives, and it is always the right time to get closer to Him. Change is hard. Sometimes, change seems impossible. When it seems like things will never get better, remember Jesus’ words – which were in response to a question about who could be saved, about who could enjoy the good life that God longs to give us – “With God, all things are possible.”