Living in a new direction

by Mark McDonald

If you Google “New Year’s resolutions,” you will discover that people have used this time of year to try to create new habits for thousands of years. You will also discover that today most people fail at keeping these resolutions more than a few weeks. Disheartening as this seems, our faith can offer hope through a change in perspective for this new year.

The biggest challenge for Americans may be that we have so much in our lives there isn’t room for more. It’s hard to take hold of the future God has for us when our hands are full of stuff from our past. So, when New Year’s resolutions come around, we struggle to make changes that ultimately just move our lives around and don’t actually change where we are going. A few weeks into the changes, we realize that moving things around doesn’t give us the satisfaction we desire, so we fall back to the way we’ve always done things (whether that is good or bad).

A host of biblical stories teach us that we can make changes that do more than satisfy what our hearts long for. Abraham and Sarah had to leave everything they had ever known in order to embrace their call to parent a new nation (Genesis 12). Moses had to overcome his guilt and fear of his crime to lead God’s people to a new land (Exodus 3-4). Ruth had to leave her broken past to find a new home and family (Ruth 1). And Peter had to leave his biggest catch ever to follow Jesus for even greater things (Luke 5).

Each of these stories give us a model for the kind of change that brings fulfilment, that is, satisfaction that we are doing what we are created to do. First, we have to let the past be the past. Even if we like the way things are, we have to be ready and willing to make changes. We have to let go of somethings to pick up something else. 

Second, we are called to make the world a better place. God’s desire for us is to change the world, not just our personal status or situations. Too often, we seek to make changes to make our personal lives better, often at the expense of others.

Lastly, those changes involve a journey, not a checklist. Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Ruth and Peter didn’t just create a list of changes. In every case, they didn’t seem to know what was coming next. They simply started in a new direction! 

In his book, “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Wasn’t Enough,” Harold Kushner tells a story that may help us make the right changes this year:

An American tourist found himself in India on the day of the pilgrimage to the top of a sacred mountain. Thousands of people would climb the steep path to the mountaintop. The tourist, who had been jogging and doing vigorous exercise and thought he was in good shape, decided to join in and share the experience. After 20 minutes, he was out of breath and could hardly climb another step, while women carrying babies and frail old men with canes, moved easily past him. “I don’t understand it,” he said to an Indian companion. “How can these people do it when I can’t?” His friend answered, “It is because you have the typical American habit of seeing everything as a test. You see the mountain as your enemy and you set out to defeat it. So, naturally, the mountain fights back and it is stronger than you are. We do not see the mountain as an enemy to be conquered. The purpose of our climb is to become one with the mountain and so it lifts us up and carries us along.”

As you begin this new year and look for a new “you,” consider the examples that our faith brings. Consider the ways that God is calling us all to move together to make the world a better place, and start living in a new direction!