Before the old year changed into this new one, I had been talking with my 4-year-old about resolutions. He had heard conversations, I guess, and asked me what resolutions were. My response was intentionally simple. “We think about who we are and how we live our life, and if we see things that aren’t good, we resolve to change these things.” I shared with him how one of the ways that I want to grow and change is to try harder to be a mother who is patient with him and his brother and his sister.
Later, I heard Jake explaining resolutions to his younger brother. “You have to try harder at things, Josh. You have to try harder to obey Mom, and you have to try harder to obey God.”
As I heard his words I felt my heart twinge; how entirely incomplete my description had been. Sure, trying harder is an element of resolve, whether in a new year or any time. Our determination to grow and put sin to death are part of His design to sanctify. But striving, though biblical and essential, is only one part of the gracious whole of sanctification. If a ‘try-harder’ determination becomes central, failed resolve or sin can bring us face to face with despair instead of to the foot of the cross.
For the Christian, resolve was never meant to operate alone. Striving to be free of sin and to grow in grace was always intended to flow out of our relationship with Christ as we rest in His finished work and abide in His perfect love. My resolve, as a mom, to grow in patience and gentleness is a good and attainable one. Growth and change in every part of who we are, how we live, how we love, is possible when we’re in Christ. An old year ending and a new one beginning is a hopeful and appropriate time to reflect and resolve. The sun rises on a new day, a new year, and time stretches out in front of us with much possibility. We thank the Designer for the pattern of time, of days and years that have the rhythm of endings and beginnings.
We wake up, looking out the window at a winter landscape and it sparkles with the indescribable beauty of a world covered in freshly fallen snow.
There is such hope.
The sin of our past made no more, blotted out and covered. We bow, knowing that through Christ that is us, spotless and sparkling white. Through Him we have been made new, and our resolve to grow more like Him actually is possible. The future is bright, hopeful.
Until we fail. Until we sin. Until we angrily yell at the tiny child that we just resolved to love with a gentle patience.
Suddenly the pristine covering of white that earlier this very day sparkled clean in the morning sun glistens no longer; it’s now dull, spoiled and in the shadows of twilight. How quickly the optimism of fresh resolve is tarnished by failure and sin. It’s not inevitable and it doesn't always happen that way. In Christ we are new and we really do have the choice this year, this day, to live new lives. But the old person, the old failures, the old sin, the Old has such little respect for what has been made new.
This is when we must live in remembrance of Him, remembering that our hope is not because of the power of fresh resolve. Our sin brings us to the cross where we look again to our Savior who bled crimson so that we could be made whiter than snow.
Fresh resolve is a good thing. But when the resolve wanes and the failures come and the sin looms ugly, we don’t just try harder. Our striving is sheltered in gentle and ever- falling grace.
In Christ, we will surely know victory and growth this year. But there will be failure too. There will be sin. There will be so many moments when we glimpse our hearts and are horrified by the ugliness that yet lingers within.
Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness.
And then rest.
We’ll wake up to a new day and we’ll look outside and see softly falling snow. We’ll see our world, our lives, our hearts, once so drab and dirty, freshly covered in a layer of perfect, sparkling white. Fresh grace dazzles, does it not? And the only response is to give thanks.