In January of 2011, I wrote in this space about what is it that helps us to keep New Year’s resolutions. I know it’s a little early to be addressing this subject again—after all New Year’s is still four weeks away. And if there’s anyone in the world who complains about celebrating holidays too early, it’s me: just ask my children about the draconian measures I take to enforce my “no Christmas music before Thanksgiving” rule. But, I had cause to think about this recently. I was participating in my morning devotion ritual and realized that, for once, I had kept this discipline going for longer than a few weeks. How did this happen? How is it that something I had such difficulty in doing before had suddenly become something I’ve stuck with for several months? Those questions got me to thinking about habits of the heart and New Year’s resolutions and all the other things we intend to do but never get around to.
Last year, I gave this advice: …for self-discipline to kick in, the need for change has to be accompanied by pain. That is, the pain of not changing has to be great enough for us to want to change. I still think that’s true, but I’d also like to try and explore the changes we desire for ourselves from the other side of the coin. Thinking over my past year, I’d also suggest that it’s helpful to “want” something. Not necessarily in a selfish way, but that change will have greater staying power if we look to our goal rather than run away from a starting point. Let me use the common example of weight loss: if all you want is to avoid a certain number on the scale or avoid looking a certain way, you can lose weight. However, if you look towards a goal, you are more likely to have a positive feeling about the work you’re undertaking to get there. The same is true with spiritual goals. My daily discipline came about because I wanted to spend more time with God. Certainly I could have been motivated by despair of my own spiritual condition (and there’s great Biblical precedent for that, see Isaiah 6:5). However, I see a necessity for coming at the problem from both directions. For me to see permanent (or at least lasting) change, I need an appropriate revulsion with where I’ve been, but also an appropriate passion for where I’m going.
Granted, you may not even be considering a New Year’s resolution (or you may not have thought that far ahead). This lesson is true no matter what the calendar says, though. Conviction that the status quo is unacceptable is required for us to even want
change to take place in our lives (see Zacchaeus’ story in Luke 19). Cheerfulness with the direction that change is heading can sustain what is going on (2 Corinthians 8:8-15). So, what change are you looking to make? Where are the places in your life and relationships where you realize something’s wrong? Maybe it’s not to that place of pain, but you realize you want something different to take place. Admitting that you want something different doesn’t mean there’s underlying failure, it could be you want to see a good pattern or habit get better. Whatever the case may be, long-term change can be motivated by both sides of this coin: a conviction that things are not okay followed by a passion for the destination.