By Savannah Kate Coffey. Kate is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.
It’s that time of year when many of us look at the 12 fresh months stretching out before us and we resolve to do more, do less, be better, grow, accept, or improve in some way. There is something inspiring about the turning of the page. Maybe this year will be different. This is the year we will finally get it right. Each new year seems to offer an enticing combination of motivation, vision, and hope, true conviction that we can change. Embracing change with commitment and zest is essential to the spiritual life, but I sometimes wonder if we walk a fine line in our zeal for improvement, often berating ourselves, others, and life itself for our unmet expectations.
For some of us New Year’s resolutions come every five minutes, never feeling at peace with the works-in-progress that we are. Surely, it is good to improve and there are always things that need to be changed. Culturally, our endless self-evaluations are reinforced by the equally endless number of self-help books offering a formula to overcome every flaw.
I wonder if preoccupation with self-improvement is the flip-side of pride. All this focus on my perceived flaws keeps me turned inward, anxious and immobilized. I am unable to simply live in freedom and joy as a child of God. I miss opportunities to offer whatever I can to the best of my ability. It also places me in Eden right next to Adam and Eve. If I could only grasp this oh-so-elusive “fruit” I would be whole, complete, like God, beautiful, free from all the messy complications of being human. I would transcend the clay of which I am made.
One very wise woman I know has a mantra for navigating life well. In any given situation, she resolves to:
- Show up (nothing is ever really possible without presence).
- Pay attention (paying attention is necessary to grasp the invitation of each moment).
- Speak the truth (choosing right speech and action to the best of one’s understanding).
- Don’t be attached to the outcome.
Don’t be attached to the outcome. It is a curious thing to give your very best efforts while being unattached to the outcome, but this advice calls us to act from the motivation of integrity rather than result. It is also a path toward peace since we often can’t control the outcomes of our efforts anyway. When we release right actions into the universe they are free to fly as they will, and others are free to respond as they will. Outcomes are just too unwieldy to control.
I want to add one more piece to my friend’s mantra: Trust grace. Who wants life to be only about their efforts? That’s a scary thing! New Year’s resolutions are about taking stock and resolving to do our very best, but peace comes from trusting that whatever we are able to do, or unable to do, and whether we ever become all we want to be, our lives will be defined by grace–by God’s tenacious determination to bless us. I want my life to be defined by God doing God’s very best for me. May we all embrace the days of 2014 in freedom, and joy–confident that this year will be lived under the authority of grace. May all our resolutions be surpassed by God’s presence to us, truth for us, right action on our behalf, patience with the outcomes, and ever-present favor.