We are a nearly a month into 2017 – how are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? Resolutions can give us a goal, a feeling of purpose or drive, something to work for or towards. Maybe your resolution is to exercise more, to give up a bad habit, to read more, or something else. Whether we completely succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between in our efforts to live up to our resolutions it can be fun, and good for us, to try and change something or grow in some way. Other times though our resolutions can be harmful to both ourselves and to others. They can, at times, produce feelings of inadequacy, envy, and shame.
I was recently thinking about my New Year’s resolutions and how what I need to do to keep up with them so that I can be better and I stumbled across this article from Living Lutheran entitled our “New Year’s Reformations” by Meghan Johnston Aelabouni. In this article she asks about the motivations behind our resolutions,
“Luther described the burden of sin as being incurvatus in se (curved in on the self). That inward curve can be marked by pride and selfishness, but Luther found that sin is also manifested in the ways we focus on ourselves with anxiety or shame. We know “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but often we don’t stop there: we pile on the ways we have fallen short of our expectations and those of others. Whether we curve in on ourselves in self-righteousness or self-deprecation, the more inward our focus, the more isolated we become.
Even our well-meaning New Year’s resolutions can contribute to the inward curve. Commitments to lose weight, save more money or try to make the world a better place are not, in and of themselves, unhealthy choices. But it’s worth asking: Why do we make resolutions? Are we the problem we are trying to resolve? Resolutions focused on making ourselves better often arise from the deep fear that we aren’t good enough.”
With the aid of Luther’s Small Catechism Aelabouni explores some common resolutions and then looks at how we might be able to “reform” those resolutions as we go forward or as she says,
“The catechism, then, offers not a new “to-do” list but an experience, a new posture of freedom. In Christ, God gently reaches into our hearts to liberate us from self-focused anxiety and turns us outward so we may recognize how we are called and gifted to serve our neighbors. “What are you free for?” Stjerna asked. “You’re never free for your own sake, but for others.” In that spirit of freedom, this article explores how insights from Luther’s Small Catechism might “reform” some common resolutions, creating “New Year’s reformations” for living Lutheran in 2017.”
In examining common resolutions she transforms things such as “lose weight” to “lose shame” and “go to church” to “be church”. This fascinating walk with the words of Luther from the Small Catechism guiding the examination of our motivations and the Good News of God’s grace, love, and mercy for all can be quite helpful for us all as we continue in this New Year. As Aelabouni concludes, “God’s liberating grace through Jesus Christ, which Luther experienced and passed on to us through the Small Catechism, can reform us as we face a new year. Grace frees us from indulgent self-focus, reminds us that it is God who makes us feel whole and invites us to turn outward in love to our neighbors.” That grace filled perspective can help us change how we view ourselves, our lives, and our world and truly reform how we live, love, and serve our neighbors. I hope you’ll take the time to read this wonderful piece.