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Less is More

“So, did you make any New Years Resolutions?” The question came from my wife last night as I was fitfully settling into the foggy state of half-sleep produced by general holiday fatigue and the accumulation of several days’ worth of sinus medication. “What?  Oh, right… New Years… Um, no, I don’t think so, I can’t think of anything.” Pretty impressive, right? I can assure you that my response was even less inspiring in person than it no doubt seems in print. The adoption of New Years Resolutions quite literally hadn’t even occurred to me.

Of course, I then proceeded to lie awake for an hour sniffling and coughing and doing a kind of haphazard inventory of those elements of my character and appearance that could do with a bit more concerted attention in 2013. So many deficiencies to correct, so many life-giving and socially approved habits to form, so many defining projects to tackle, so much to accomplish professionally. It was a long and depressing list by the time sleep appeared and mercifully relieved me of my unexpected burden. And I was late! By this time, it was technically Jan 2 for crying out loud! I was already a day behind.

I’m (kind of) joking. I haven’t taken New Years Resolutions too seriously for a long time. I’ve tried (and failed) just enough to know that the optimism and resolve that are inexplicably produced by substituting one digit for another on a calendar inevitably fade as rapidly as they appeared. Somewhere out there, there must be people who resolve to do things on January 1 and actually succeed, but I have not yet met such creatures. Far more common is the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, “yeah, I broke my New Years Resolution on Jan 10” phenomenon. Change is difficult. We know this. And I suspect that, for most of us, the things that we would most like to change in our lives are the most deeply rooted habits, the most reflexive responses, the most perversely cherished and clung-to aspects of who we are and how we live. In other words, the things that are the hardest to change.

I was having a conversation recently with someone about the perceived expectation to always be “doing more” for Jesus. More faithfulness, more discipleship, more commitment, more spiritual vitality, more sacrifice for the sake of others, more Christ-like character, more inspiring leadership more ____. The list was a diverse and lengthy one, but the main idea was more. “I’m tired of it,” my friend said. “I don’t want to be told that I need to do more, to work harder. I want to hear about grace.”

Me too.

I hope this doesn’t sound like cheap, easy cynicism, or like I am somehow baptizing laziness. I hope it doesn’t sound like I think that being conformed to the image of Christ is unimportant or unnecessary. I hope it doesn’t sound like I think that taking steps, however small, to improve ourselves (physically, relationally, spiritually) aren’t important or admirable. No, no, no, to each of the above.

But I also know that it is hard—very hard—to become the people that we would like to be. I know that our reach always exceeds our grasp, that the destination we seek is one that we never really arrive at. We take a step forward, and then two steps back. We try and we fail. We pick ourselves up and try again. Or, sometimes we don’t. At least not for a while. Sometimes all we can do is lick our wounds and try to survive to fight another day. Sometimes, all we can do is cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and take refuge in the grace that is stronger and deeper, more secure and lasting than the behavioral modifications we enthusiastically embrace and frustratedly abandon.

I would like to be a better person in 2013 than I was in 2012. Who wouldn’t? I would like be more spiritually alive, more relationally present, more physically fit, more professionally competent, more compassionate and kind, more intuitive and responsive to the needs around me, more committed to being a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, pastor, ____.  But I would also like to be less. Less obsessively introspective, less self-critical, less melodramatic, less apparently convinced that the fate of the world or the future of the church somehow hang on my ability to become more than I am at the moment.

So, here on January 2, 2013, I confidently declare that God’s projects for the coming year and beyond do not depend upon me becoming more. I gladly accept that God’s love for me precedes whatever good I might be able to accomplish over the next 364 days, and that it will survive any and all of my many failures. I gratefully entrust those that God has placed within my circle of influence to his grace and care which are far truer and more reliable than my own. This, it seems to me, is as good and sure a set of convictions as any from which to launch into a new year.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. “our reach always exceeds our grasp, that the destination we seek is one that we never really arrive at.” – This feels like me… all the time. Thanks for your words on this friend! Much appreciated!

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks, Chris. All the best to you in the year ahead!

      January 2, 2013
  2. Dani #

    Well, if you ever consider taking New Year’s Resolutions more serious, here is my suggestion: Use less words that I have to google to understand 😉 It is okay if you fail.. I would continue ‘googling’ them then..! 🙂

    January 2, 2013
    • Ha! Thanks, Dani :).

      January 3, 2013
  3. Anne #

    Good thoughts! Go for it! Happy New Year to you and Yours!

    January 3, 2013
    • Happy New Year to you as well, Anne!

      January 3, 2013
  4. Kevin K #

    I know it’s probably a broadly applying principal, but I wonder how much being “obsessively introspective” “self-crticial” and “apparently convinced that… the future of the church somehow hang on my ability to become more than I am at the moment” is an occupational hazard of being a pastor. At least as a pastor, I certainly resonated with the idea of needing grace in place of a sort of “holy activity.”

    January 3, 2013
    • Yes, I think these are definitely tendencies that are present in many pastors, Kevin. And each one probably contains the seeds of something positive within it. But at least in my experience, the negative aspects can quite easily come to dwarf the positive ones and the overall result isn’t healthy.

      It’s relatively easy to preach (or write!) about grace… Not so easy to personally embrace it as an existential reality.

      January 3, 2013
  5. mike #

    ..Wow!….what a powerful and edifying meditation..There were so many good cut&paste opportunities in this one that i just had to give it up.

    Every now and then i need someone to tell/assure me that it’s OK…..thanks,Ryan.

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks, Mike. I do too :).

      January 4, 2013

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