"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me...Restore to me the joy of your salvation."
-- Psalm 51: 10, 12
Jan. 1 isn't so long ago that the topic of New Year's resolutions has been entirely forgotten. Most of us are probably flagging in our resolves anyway if we determined the usual -- quit smoking, lose weight, save money, or read the Bible through this year -- because our best intentions have failed to materialize so many times before. But maybe, with a little change in emphasis, we can succeed with those vows we make to ourselves.
It's occurred to me this year that the resolutions I normally make are totally self-centered. So, I thought, what if I didn't think about my own health, wealth, or outward appearance at all this year, and concentrated instead on improving my character, relationships or my contribution to the well-being of someone else?
Perhaps it was coincidental, or the fact that there's very little original thought, but I've just come across a list of New Year's resolutions written by the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards 250 years ago. Here is how he once determined to begin his New Year. I am resolved:
To live with all my might while I do live;
Never to lose one moment of time, but to use it in the most profitable way I possibly can;
Never to do anything that I would despise or think meanly of if it were done by someone else;
Never to do anything out of revenge;
Never to do anything I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
Powerful words, lofty and perhaps impossible goals. Are they worth a try?
I decided to choose just one area this year in which to apply Edwards' plan. So, for the past few weeks, I've tried to spend less energy being angry.
There are at least two situations in my life that, with very little effort, I can feel my blood rising. And for what purpose, for what good? None, nor does the situation improve after I shout, complain, or scream. But if I turn those thoughts into concern for the other person or into improving my part of the relationship, it's amazing how much calmer I feel.
By next week I may be back to pounding my fists again, but for the moment I'm having more success with this plan than I ever did losing weight.
I don't know if Edwards succeeded in following his own resolutions or not, but I do know something else about the man. His writings and sermons were largely responsible for "The Great Awakening," a revival which swept across New England in the mid-1700s and lasted 50 years; and shortly before his death he became president of Princeton University. There are some less-than-complimentary entries in Edwards' biographies, too, including a recent book about his family life called "Marriage to a Difficult Man."
Isn't that great? He tried and failed sometimes just like we do. But the secret of his success was that he kept trying, that he thought past his own personal concerns and affected the lives of thousands of people in the process, even though that resolution never appeared in print.
The real meaning of the word "vow" is "a sincere attempt to keep one's word." Different from a legal or business contract, a vow, then, is something we try to keep but for which we may be forgiven if we don't. And, too, after determining that a vow is worthy, breaking it once, twice, or a hundred times doesn't mean we can't make it again.
Emphasize the making, as in the Psalmist's request to "restore unto me..." (Psalm 51:12), and perhaps the broken vow or resolution will be easier to forgive -- in others as well as in ourselves.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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