There’s something deeply hopeful in the beginning of a New Year. Like the first page of the brand new exercise books we were given at primary school at the beginning of a new school year or the promising emptiness of the diary given as a Christmas present – blank pages to be filled in with perfect handwriting, faultless spelling, inspiring thoughts and creative stories, exciting things that had happened.... The old exercise book with all its mistakes and the old diary that we didn’t manage to keep after the second week of January can be thrown away. We can start again!
The making of New Year resolutions holds that same spirit of hopefulness for an improved life or way of living. Making resolutions in the New Year is a very ancient custom. More than 4,000 years ago the Babylonians celebrated the New Year in March with the making of resolutions, promises to their gods to return things they had borrowed or to pay their debts. The Romans made New Year resolutions to behave well. Today, as many people make New Year resolutions of all kinds to improve their lives, research shows that more than 88% of people fail to keep them.
At the beginning of the New Year Methodists make a distinctive resolution in a Covenant Service. The service brings to mind God’s desire to make and keep a covenant (loving relationship) with his people. The people resolve to follow the way of Jesus, loving God and loving those amongst whom we live.
To live fully in loving relationship with God is only possible through the grace of God. However sincere we are in our commitment, we won’t always succeed. But God still loves us, which inspires us to keep persevering.
It won’t be long into a New Year until we’ve messed up again, or the troubles we thought we could put behind us at the end of the last year have returned to get us down. Or new problems rise up to challenge us.
A really good New Year’s resolution is to take any opportunity to make a new start when we need to, and to find and keep that same sense of hopefulness for ourselves and our world that we feel at the beginning of a New Year.
We can become the people we’re meant to be. At any time we can put past mistakes behind us and begin again with a ‘clean slate’. Good will come out of adversity. Whatever happens, God will be with us.
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied, "Go out into the darkness,
and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light,
and safer than a known way."
Minnie Haskins (1875-1957).