I know, I know. It’s the season for resolutions that’ll evaporate all too soon: unrealistic, unmet, maybe even unmeant, and unarguably certain to fall by the wayside. Are you kidding? Work starts tomorrow and I’ll never do all I intended to.
I know what Mark Twain said on 1 January 1863: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” As I face the end of another break I have hours of writing and reading and cleaning and corresponding behind me, left undone. And too much to do tomorrow.
I know, I know. Bishop Andy Doyle has tweeted this slightly horrifying picture–that’s right, they’re getting ready for Valentine’s Day already. The ceaseless and soulless commercialization just spirals more furiously out of control all the time. This world leaves us with no silent nights, no Twelve Days of Christmas to contemplate what the staggering implication of Incarnation might mean. And even if the world did afford such solemn thoughtfulness, no doubt my own unquiet soul would mediate and medicate that outrageous offer and fill up with clutter and noise all that space where God comes in.
“But God.” Some say that the two most hopeful, redemptive words in the Bible are “But God.” “But God, being rich in mercy” makes us alive when we are dead. But God shows his love for us in the cross, all the more as we fall short. Goes ON showing his love for us is how the Greek has it. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” and chose the weak to confound the strong. “But God” comforts the downcast. “But God’s firm foundation stands” and we can build upon that firm foundation a house to stand any storm.
“But God.” “But God.” As I get ready for my day, my week, my year ahead, I plan to put this tiny prayer in my pocket and use it as often as I can recall: “But God.” “But God. I’m a mess, and I make a mess of things.” Yes, but that’s not the end of the story. Yup. It’s time to make a mantra, a liturgy, a small, persistent prayer of those words.
And in the face of the twin devils of cynicism and commercialism (and every lesser demon of despair), I’m making some resolutions. I bought new walking shoes, and there’s a park and a path nearby. I’m going to read my Bible every day. And yes, as a matter of fact, I’m already a day behind. I’m going to write more, and to keep in closer contact with those I love.
And I think we SHOULD make resolutions. Of COURSE we shall fail at them–splendidly, incrementally, whatever way there is to fail, we’ll surely find it. No doubt we’ll invent some new ways to fall down along the way as well.
And I find that good. If God’s power really IS made perfect in my weakness, and his grace really does suffice in all things for me, he must embrace all the ways we fail. I see our resolutions as a sort of triumph of hope, even though those hopes so often fall down, sometimes rather spectacularly.
But resolutions, promises, aspirations, if these signal the hope that lies within us, certainly the ways in which we fall short must point to the far greater realities of grace and forgiveness. We’ll sin. Against God, each other, ourselves, and against all we owe the world by our good actions and cultivated kindnesses.
The glory of that fact is that our sins cry out for the grace of God that stands tiptoe, ready to rush in and clean up the messes we so often make. God saves us at a word. Frederick Buechner calls repentance “a turning back, a going home.” God saves us at a word, our calling on his name, and though we grow cynical and disillusioned with our own failures and those of all around us, he never does. He knows us by name and calls us back home. Calling his name however feebly allows us yet again to turn back, to go him. My friends remind me that it’s never too late to start my day over.
I’m going to make resolutions. When I inevitably fail, I’ll cry mercy, pick up the pieces, and proceed as best I can. I have before me a new day, a new week, a new year, and I want to hope high enough at least to try to make much good come of it.
A priest friend of mine agrees with Twain that the road to hell is paved with good intention. “But,” he wisely points out, “so too is the road to Heaven.” For today, for right now at least, I think I’ll try it that way. I’m going to take a walk, do my dishes, finish my morning reading. Write something today–oh, wait–check! See?
Forgetting what lies behind, pressing on towards the upward call, staggering, stumbling, wholly leaning on the grace by which I stand (and fall!), I think I’ll give it another go this day, this year, this passing vapor of a life this side of eternity.
It is so resolved.