Christ Church, Oxford University
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett
So it’s a New Year…2017. I love this hopeful period of looking back on the past year, and considering how to revise my life in the new year. I love its promise, a sheet of new fallen snow.
New Year’s Resolutions… Like most people, I have barely kept any perfectly, though over the years, I do eat less chocolate (to which I was once addicted), and far less sugar, cookies, and sweet treats (though still more than I should). I drink less coffee. I avoid red meat. I exercise more. I use the internet and social media less. I am tidier and more organized. Change happens.
Some people Jesus healed just like that, instantly. Some people he healed gradually, like the blind man whom Jesus choose to heal not with his mighty word which flung the heavens into existence, but though the messy, rather humiliating expedient of spitting on his eyes. At this, the man saw “men, like trees, walking.” Jesus tried again, placed his hands on the man’s eyes, and his sight was then restored.
Sometimes, we see “men, like trees, walking,” before we are healed. And of some things, sadly, we will never be healed. ALL of us on the day of our death will still be sinners; all of us will have little bad habits we still struggle with. We will sin less and less, but not be sinless. On the last New Year’s Day of our lives, we will probably be recording variants of “I will exercise more; I will eat healthily,” just as the most organised of us will probably die with things on their To Do lists. Jesus said that he who does not voluntarily heft his own cross was not worthy of following him. We do not do Jesus a favour by trying to follow him. We prove ourselves worthy of following Christ, the greatest enterprise of our lives, by voluntarily accepting suffering and self-denial. And for some of us, our cross is our own weakness, the resolutions we make and break, make and break.
My daughter Irene has just been accepted into the six year Medicine course at Christ Church, Oxford University. But until today, I’d say: Irene’s been offered a President’s Scholarship to Imperial College, London, given to the top 1% of the entering class–being cagey about her other application, because…. what if?
I feel like that when it comes to recording my New Year’s resolutions here. What if the spirit is willing and flesh is weak?
What if I fail?
If I fail, “what matters it?” as my toddler Zoe used to say. One of my mantras is “fail better.” I may not lose every excess pound, but, God willing, I will certainly lose some. I may not read as much as I want to, but God willing, I will read more than I did in 2016. I may not have a perfect diet, but, God willing, I will bless my body with nutritious food and exhilarating movement more than I did in 2016. I may not write as much as I want to, but God willing, I will write more than I did last year.
Jesus tells us that unless we turn and become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And I think he has the same tenderness towards us as we havde towards our children when they were toddlers. We took Zoe to Florence when she was three; seeing ceilings painted blue, and sprinkled with gold stars, she wanted to paint her ceiling. I said, “Yes, when you are as good as Michelangelo.” And so she asked each day, “Mummy, am I as good as Michelangelo now?” “Almost,” I’d say. I think God views our grand plans with the same indulgence (though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them).
Be as tender with yourself as you’d be with a toddler… and be of good cheer, God feels the same tenderness towards you.
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And so to record the ways I hope to revise my life in this New Year. I have taken up two active hobbies in 2016… yoga in the gym, and running, and I love both, but, in both, am hindered by my extra weight. So I am planning to severely eliminate sugar and chocolate from my diet. I used to use dark chocolate as a mood boost through the day, using a bar or two a week. Instead of that, I will pause, interrogate why I need comfort and seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit. When I fail in this, I will get back on the wagon, failing better than I did in the past.
I want to read more. For years, I have used the year as a unit, recording the books I’ve read, aiming to read one additional book during the next year. But I am going to take the month as a unit, and read or listen to one additional book a month next year. That would mean reading 5 extra pages a day each month, and listening to 5 extra pages on my walks, or as I do household chores. I can do that. I need to read a lot since I am in the revision phases of my book, and the more I read, the more easily language pours out of my fingertips, and revisions become quicker, more intuitive, and more fun.
I want to build up the steps I take each day to definitely 10,000, and perhaps 16,000, a level at which one can maintain a healthy weight without dieting, according to studies of the Amish. That would be nice. What’s helping? A Fitbit HR, which beeps every hour during which I have not done at least 250 steps, and then I get up and either tidy up for 5 minutes, or just jog in place, or on my rebounder.
And I want to finish my book, and, luckily, I am gaining momentum, each chapter taking less time than the previous one… Fortunately, I am enjoying it.
We learn through our successes. We learn through our failures. And even if it all goes wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!
How about you? What are your New Year’s resolutions?