Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 2, 2013

New Years Angst

While walking the lake yesterday I witnessed a higher number of runners than usual. You could tell they were not the regulars. They were the first week of January crowd – the people who set out to become runners but only last a few days. I am usually one of them, but this year I figured I wouldn’t even bother. I’ll take my leisurely, contemplative stroll instead!

For some reason I feel less idealistic this year. This skepticism is reinforced every time I walk into our utility room in the basement. The rarely used weight set stares at me with judgment. The 250 feet of new electric wire that is still in the plastic wrap on my work bench reminds me of unfinished home repair projects. The gap between reality and desire, both in my personal an professional life, seems large. When I look at all the things I would like to change about myself I feel overwhelmed.

I think there are two issues that seem to reinforce this New Years angst. The first issue has to do with patience. The reality is that change is slow. It often comes one step at a time. However, we live in a culture that shapes us to expect things to happen quickly. For instance, someone had pity on me last month because the operating system on my macbook is 2 years old. How could I possibly put up with the extra nano-second it takes for my internet browser to open? Perhaps this expectation for speed reinforces our disillusionment. When we do not see immediate results we give up.

I was at a leadership conference last year where our speaker emphasized the importance of looking long term. He said that churches often overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in five years. I know that that connects with my experience. I often try and do too much at once and as a result the long term plan suffers.

I think this can apply to our personal lives as well. Perhaps we need to focus on trying to do less. Instead of saying we are going to become a vegan, run a marathon, break our addiction to caffeine and stop watching T.V. this year, we should pick one of these things. Take it a step at a time!

The same thing applies to our spiritual journey. Spiritual transformation is a long process. Eugene Peterson sums this up well in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. As the title suggests, the spiritual life long journey. This long journey in the same direction is played out for us in the stories of the disciples in the gospels. It takes them forever to get what Jesus is teaching. In Mark 8-10, for example, Jesus teaches his disciples that the last shall be first 3 different times. Their old beliefs and behaviors keep creeping back.

This leads me to the second issue that I see at stake in our addressing our new years angst. It has to do with grace. The hopeful part of the gospel story is that while the disciples are slow learners, Jesus is a patient teacher. He sticks with them and calls them to move forward one step at a time. I think that one of the mistakes we make in the spiritual journey is that we expect virtue to be instant. However, that is not what we see in the Bible. Even saintly Paul continues to wrestle with his human nature (See Romans 7). The good news is that Jesus graciously sticks with us!

I think that New Years is one of the easiest times of the year for us to forget about God’s grace. It is ironic when you think about it. Just a week ago we celebrated the gift of a savior. We told the story of of how God graciously sent his son into the world to save us from our sin. Yet, just seven days later, we forget the gospel of grace and live out a religion of works. We start taking things into our own hands and act as if we can change by sheer will-power alone.

What gives me hope is that our desire for growth and change is not solely dependent on us! I am reminded of Jesus’ words in John 15 where he says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Maybe the starting point for change is for us to rest in the knowledge of God’s love and to trust his provision for the things we need?

Grace and peace to you in 2013!

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Responses

  1. Thank you Phil for your thoughts on our “long Journey” in a speed-crazed culture/world. My pastor here in Vancouver spoke last Sunday on change, and the need to think of it coming incrementally….like all true spiritual, and behavioral changes happen. It is life-giving to give ourselves “time-room” to make the needed changes. You speak encouragement to us as you take your contemplative stroll alongside the lake….(I recall that Jesus was prone to contemplative walks along His Lake.)

    Thanks again Phil. I always reading your thoughts when Victoria passes them along to me. I met you and your family at church on 3 Mar 2012 when I was visiting the Soaring Blocks. Blessings to you in all areas where change is underway via the Transformer!! : ) Andrea

    • Thanks for your thoughts Andrea! All the best in 2013!


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