Resolution or Reflection?

The new year brings with it much talk about New Years Resolutions.  I’ll admit up front that I personally have never been big on this tradition.  Last year, I wrote in my journal, “A new year does not so much bring celebration for me as it does bring contemplation and reflection.”  I don’t have anything against New Years resolutions, I am just not a “resolutions” type of person.  At the same time, almost all of the deeply spiritual people whose writings I respect talk about the importance of reflection, with nary a mention of resolutions.  So at the beginning of each New Year, I have developed a tradition of looking back before I look forward.  I thought I would share one of my ways of doing so.

Several years ago, our church in Wrigleyville wanted to spend the first Sunday of the new year reflecting on what kind of people we were becoming.  And what a better measuring stick than the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  We developed some simple definitions to each characteristic and asked people to assign either a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” for each one.  The entire service was dedicated to giving people space to individually reflect with this exercise.

Over the years, I have personally stuck with this practice.  Looking back through my journals, I now have eleven years of reflection on what kind of person I am becoming.  At the beginning of each year, I find some time alone, read through my previous journals, and then write out how I see myself progressing (or regressing) on the fruit of the Spirit.  Because I am analytical, last year I even added a simple line graph to chart my spiritual development for each piece of fruit over the years. At the conclusion I try to identify some overall themes and areas for growth over the next year.

Now I’ll admit, this exercise is not always easy or fun.  It is difficult at times to quantify whether or not I am becoming a more patient person or whether my life is marked increasingly by goodness.  It has caused me to pause to think through just what each of these fruits is really describing and the tangible evidence that would be demonstrated in my life if it were marked more by the fruit of the Spirit.  At times I celebrate; other times I come away with much to work on.  And as always, it is balanced by what is within my control and what I must wait on God for to form within me.

We are often driven by what we are accomplishing rather than who we are becoming.  Perhaps this is why resolutions are notorious for not lasting much beyond February of each year: they are not often grounded in a reflective life.  It is much more exciting to make a list of things you want to accomplish in the next year, while it can be a daunting task to examine whether the previous year has been one reflective of the fruit of God’s Spirit.