Ordinary Resolutions

Happy New Year!

If you are like most Americans, you probably spent some time this past week thinking about New Years Resolutions–what I call “our culture’s least meaningful tradition.” The end of one year and the beginning of another is a great (if somewhat arbitrary) time to reflect on our lives, particularly the things that we would like to see change.

I think that this is all well and good. The problem for me is that too often our reflection is shallow. It is shallow in the sense that we often don’t have the tools to reflect deeply and meaningfully, and it is shallow in the sense that culture strongly influences us to focus on the physical — e.g. weight — without regard to deeper meaning.

To make matters even worse, the whole concept of “resolutions” focuses whatever limited reflection that we do onto the negative aspects of our lives. New Year’s Resolutions don’t leave any time for us to celebrate the good in our lives and to give thanks. They turn us immediately to self-criticism and comparison, which lead to negativity.

This is where I centered my reflection this New Year: the small, tedious moments of my life, based in Jesus’ ordinary years.

And can I talk about how they set us up to fail? This is particularly true with diet resolutions. Medical research data show that diets fail over 90% of the time, and are often associated with even worse health outcomes! But the same is true for the majority of resolutions. They demand perfectionism, and we are so not perfect ones.

Part of this problem, I think, is our tendency to imagine that our resolutions have to be enormous in order to be meaningful. Instead of finding meaning in the ordinary and in small acts, we see little things as inherently meaningless. This is a failure of imagination on our part. Our lives are made up of these smaller, tedious moments.

This is where I centered my reflection this New Year: the small, tedious moments of my life, based in Jesus’ ordinary years.

In Christ’s ordinary years, we find sacredness in all ordinary things.

This is where Tish Harrison Warren starts in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary–with the 30 years of Jesus’ life before his baptism and ministry: “The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness. As if the incarnation itself is not mind-bending enough, the incarnate God spent his days quietly, a man who went to work, got sleepy, and lived a pedestrian life among average people.”

It’s strangely inspirational to think of an ordinary Jesus. It’s strikingly different than our tendency to have to make everything to be the most important thing ever. Warren writes “Christ’s ordinary years are part of our redemption story.” In Christ’s ordinary years, we find sacredness in all ordinary things. This is good news because there is sacredness in the ordinary parts of our lives and the way that we live out these ordinary periods of 24 hours is the way that we live our lives.

This lead me to several simple questions for reflection:

How can I find sacredness in the ordinary?

How can I find it at home?

How can I find it at work?

How can I find it at the grocery store?

A number of years ago, I made the simple resolution to look cashiers in the eye, call them by name, smile, and ask how their day is going. This one has stuck with me as a way to see the sacred in the ordinary act of shopping and to help build a simple, compassionate, centered life.

As I read Colossians 3:12-17 this past Sunday, thinking about finding the sacred in the ordinary led me to read it in a different light:

When Paul gives his instructions in the passage from Colossians, he is not talking about some grand adventures, but the monotony of our daily lives.

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience at the grocery store.

Bear with one another and forgive each other at dinner.

Clothe yourself with love at work.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do your everyday stuff in the name of the Lord Jesus.

A resolution to be more patient is best lived out not in a mountain retreat, but in the aisle of the grocery store. A resolution to be kinder is best lived out not through a single large donation to a charity, but in the small interactions that we have with one another when our hunger makes us irritable. A resolution to love more is best lived out not starting at the global level, but starting at home.

It is easier to change when we give ourselves the grace and freedom to be ordinary, to make mistakes, and to grow in wisdom and in stature as Jesus did through his ordinary years (Luke 2:52).

May we all come to know the sacred in the ordinary.

What practices help you to find the sacred in the ordinary? What simple resolutions can you make to help form a centered, compassionate life? Let us know in the comments!

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