The New Year brings new resolutions, and a desire for change, writes David Goodwin.
The first few weeks of January are probably the most lucrative time of year for people running gyms or selling exercise equipment. Across the country, there will be thousands upon thousands signing up for a gym membership, and there will be a run on exercise bikes and treadmills.
It will be a time when people make New Year’s resolutions to eat better or eat less, to exercise more, to live healthier or to save money—to finally go out and do something that they have been meaning to do for years.
There is something about the New Year that makes us want to improve, to make a change for the better. It causes us to reflect on our lives, to take stock of what we have managed to achieve in the year past, and set goals for the year ahead.
But, when you think about it, New Year’s is a pretty arbitrary date. Why does a simple number on the calendar matter so much? Why do we need a New Year to decide to be a new person? It’s likely a similar reason as to why we make a bigger deal of our 21st birthday than we do our 23rd, or why my 40th will be more significant to me than my 38th was.
These are dates that society tells us mark times of transition, where we leave one part of our lives behind and embark on a new chapter. We’re expected to take time to measure our progress in life, and see how it stacks up against those around us. And, that naturally starts us thinking about what it is about our lives, or about ourselves, that we’d like to be different.
Whether it is New Year, or one of those milestone birthdays, it has the same effect, making us sit back and take stock of our lives, and forcing us to examine the contrast between where we are and where we thought we would be. For many of us, it can be a bit depressing to realise how many of our dreams never came true, or how many things we wish we had done differently.
But, even after we decide that this year will be different, the truth is inspiration is often quick to fade. How many gym memberships will be neglected, or treadmills put up for sale, come late February, if not sooner? It’s a sad fact of life that New Year’s resolutions often don’t last much longer than the celebrations.
Instead of these milestones being a stepping stone to a better life, they become a source of guilt, another failure to feel bad about. Worst of all, if every year we resolve to make a change, and find ourselves in the same old rut come the next year, we can start to believe that change is impossible—and that we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, over and over again.
So, what’s the answer? Is it to not make New Year resolutions, or simply not bothering to try to change the things about our life that we don’t like? If you don’t try you won’t fail, right? The problem with that is that it leaves you stuck in the same place for good, and if you aren’t happy where you are that’s not a good place to be.
It’s hard to hope for something better if you are told that trying and failing is no better than not trying at all, or even that you need to wait for a certain moment to have a chance to start over, and if you get it wrong you’ve wasted your chance.
We believe that we can all make a new beginning, and that God will help bridge the gap between who we are and who we could be. That’s what grace is.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of plenty of things I wish I had done differently, or choices that I regret. I can think of a number of things that I would love to change about myself, but somehow keep falling into the same old patterns. If you can identify with that, you will know how discouraging it can be to try, only to fall short. The good news is that doesn’t mean we should just give up.
At the heart of the Christian message that inspires everything The Salvation Army does is the idea that people can change, and that we aren’t doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes. You don’t need to wait for a certain date, or hit a particular milestone, to decide that you want to make a new beginning. The moment we decide we want to make a change for the better is the right moment.
Over the coming year in Warcry we will, like the year before, feature stories of people whose lives have been transformed, who have made a fresh start despite incredible obstacles. Maybe our mistakes aren’t as dramatic as some of the ones we will read about, maybe they are, but our hope is that they will inspire us all to believe that if a new beginning is possible for the people we read about, it is possible for us, too.
It’s not just that we believe that people deserve a second chance, it’s that we believe that people deserve as many chances as it takes to get it right, because what matters is trying to do better the next time around. And we believe that none of us should have to do it on our own, that we can all use a helping hand to get through tough times and come out the other side.
The Salvos will continue to offer practical assistance to those trying to make a new start right throughout the year. That might be financial assistance when people are struggling, or counselling services to give people new strategies in dealing with addiction or other problems. It’s that helping hand when needed, that reminder that they aren’t alone.
And we will continue to share the message of hope that is found in the Gospel, the idea that people can change, that even though we all make mistakes we don’t have to be defined by them. We believe that we can all make a new beginning, and that God will help bridge the gap between who we are and who we could be. That’s what grace is.
If this New Year has made you sit back and reflect on the things you want to change, and you want the coming year to be better than the one that has just gone, the Salvos are here to tell you that you don’t have to do it on your own. We will be right here alongside you—because we are on the same journey.