It seems like this week every conversation will begin with the question, how was your Christmas? Here is the honest answer that we will probably never give: we feel tired, fat, and a little confused about the day of the week. But why not be honest, at least with our own souls? The Christmas season is an excellent time for reflection and resolution. The combination of the turning of a fresh page in the New Year and the tiniest hint of residual guilt about the excesses indulged during the feast can provide ample motivation for making a few confessions.
I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, per se, but every year since I can remember I have experimented with adding or take away something from my routine. Some of them have benefitted me for decades. Others didn’t last into February. Since confession is good for the soul, here are a few resolutions from past years that didn’t turn out as anticipated:
- Running: At some point every year since age 12 I have resolved to take on some form of exercise from weight training (disastrous) to team sports (disappointing). This year I tried to run. I even downloaded an app called, “Coach to 5K.” I got from the couch to 3K and back to the couch again.
- Quitting Caffeine: This actually wasn’t a resolution. It was a strategy for staying up late for the YC weekend when I turned 30 in youth ministry. My plan was to quit for a month so that by the time YC weekend came, when I drank coffee again, it would actually have some effect beyond returning me to being generally sociable. Every year I tried to extend my efforts beyond YC. As I write this, I have already finished a coffee and am sipping a tea, so you know how well that went.
- Playing bagpipes: I learned some important things from this 6-month experiment. Chiefly, bagpipes are one of the most difficult instruments in the world. Just mastering the chanter is more difficult than learning trumpet. Then there are the million small disciplines like circular breathing, tuning, bagpipe care, and of course, looking good in a kilt (not everyone can pull it off!). Also, not everyone loves listening to someone playing the bagpipes exceptionally. Much less at the novice level.
Then there were some resolutions that became practices, then habits, and honestly, I don’t even think about them anymore other than being generally grateful for the long-term benefits:
- Reading scripture every day. Consumption varies, and I try a different kind of method every year (new bible, journaling, app, 365 plan, colouring), but it has been a first thing in the morning routine for me since I was a pre-teen. Before you ask, yes, I miss days. No, it doesn’t derail me. I have confidence that if I don’t eat in a while, my body will remind me.
- Having a coach, prayer partners and mentors. Once you make connections in earnest, it is very easy to maintain and honestly the benefits are rather addictive.
- 52 books a year. It started as a challenge from a friend in 2017 and now I have the added motivation that my wife reads about 250.
What is the difference between the practices that became habits and those that became memories of heroic attempts? Experts offer a variety of different opinions, from a magic number of tries, to the reasonableness of the goal, to the why behind the what. While there is some value in all of these approaches, I honestly think when it comes to our spiritual progress, the best solution is found in the world of recovery (think Alcoholics Anonymous or Life’s Healing Choices) – and the approach is somewhat counterintuitive:
“Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.”
While this is only the first step, I believe that it is the crucial missing ingredient from many of our best intentions. After all, what are our poor (or less than potential) patterns of living but habits, addictions to a lesser way of life? If we had the resources and resolve in ourselves to make the necessary changes, we would already be on the path to improvement.
Jesus gets to the heart of this right from the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) – spiritual poverty is the beginning and telos of life in the kingdom. Without a helpless reliance on God, all of our trying is just an exercise in futility at best and hypocrisy at worst – from our relationships with others to the classical disciplines to our general outlook on life and the future. Only gratitude for grace can ensure that our effort never becomes an exercise in earning. We are always only partners with the Holy Spirit in our own growth, following his leading and receiving his enablement.
Grace: “God’s active response to our acknowledged poverty in every facet of life to which we give him access.”
Reflecting briefly on my own best-kept resolutions, they all began and continued from the position of “help!” I began reading scripture daily because I had no idea how to be a Christian. I continue because I need to be reminded every day that I live in God’s narrative. I enlisted a coach and prayer partners because I realized that leadership growth requires intentional reflection and other people (especially elders in my life). I read a book weekly because directing Formission necessitates a continual learning posture. Poverty, poverty, poverty. In all of these things, I need the help of God, others, and the enlistment of the best efforts of my soul.
So, this year I am taking a different tack with my physical fitness. I am wholeheartedly confessing that there is no athletic Jeremy just below the surface waiting to be willed out. I am a recovering sedentary who is incapable of loving God with all of my body on my own. Thank God for his grace and for who He is shaping me to be!
 “Eight Recovery Principles.” https://www.celebraterecovery.ca/cr-tools/8-recovery-principles/ .
 Working/stipulative definition by the author.
About Jeremy Nippard
Jeremy Nippard is the Director of Formission for the PAONL. He lives in Paradise with his wife, Cheryl, and children, Christyn and Carter. Jeremy is passionate about discipleship, and would love to connect over a cup of coffee. He definitely does not play the bagpipes.