Having just passed the threshold of another year, watching that “magical” crystal ball drop on the old and bring in the new has once again caused me to reflect on the impact of a new year on life.
While I have never been a strong advocate of making New Year’s resolutions, primarily because most of them are obsolete and have been violated within two weeks of the new year’s beginning, every year I do spend some quality time in evaluating the past and setting some SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely — goals for the New Year.
When I explained that to a friend one time, he accused me of making New Year’s resolutions, just calling them SMART goals instead! Whatever…
I have set these goals in four primary areas of my life: Spiritual, Physical, Mental, and Relational (or Social). There used to be five, as I added a category for Vocational goals as well.
Actually, the goals I have set are all relational if you think about it. They all refer to my relationship with my God, my own body, my mind and my family, my friends, and my church (in that order, I might add!). And they challenge me to consider what is most important in my life and what sorts of things do I value the most!
The challenge each of us must face as we enter the New Year is the question of what indeed will make this year a “happy” one.
These days, we throw the “Happy New Year” phrase about like it is confetti at a parade, but what does it really mean? And how do I ensure that I have one?
Psychologists tell us that our brains tend to falsely predict what will actually bring us happiness. We assume that if we achieve certain things in life, we will find happiness.
You know what I’m talking about: “I’ll be happy IF I get into the right school”, or “I’ll be happy IF I find the right partner”, or “I’ll be happy IF I get that promotion”, or “I’ll be happy IF I have my dream home”.
But Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor has observed that this “if-then” perspective cannot be supported by the data, because each time our brain experiences a “success”, it moves the goalposts of what happiness looks like.
If I got good grades, I have to get better grades. If I have a good job, I have to get a better job. If I hit my sales target, I have to have a higher sales target. If I buy a home, now I have to look for a larger home. And the list goes on…
The question we should be asking at this time of the year is not “What will make me happy?”, but rather “What will give me the greatest satisfaction and value this coming year?”
The young teenager knew he was in trouble when his father hung up the phone and called his name. It had been the school principal on the phone, and his Dad wanted to know what had happened in school that day. The complaint had been that the boy was goofing off in class and being very disrespectful to his teacher.
“It wasn’t my fault,” the son said, “and besides, THAT class is SO boring!”
“Maybe you should study more, and it wouldn’t be so boring!”
“Aw, Dad, really… if I studied any more, I wouldn’t have any fun!”
The father then took his son to his basement workroom, where he pulled an old piece of wood out of the pile of wood in the corner. “This used to belong to your Grandpa!” he said to his son.
“Well, that old piece of wood can’t be worth too much. What did you hang on to it for?” the boy asked.
“You think it isn’t worth much, but it is solid cherry. And your Grandpa used to make finely carved figurines out of it. He would even sell them for quite a price to collectors from all over the country! You know that little one up on the end table? That’s one that he made. And it is quite valuable!”
“Wow! I guess I was wrong about that, wasn’t I?” said the boy.
“Yes, but you could cut this piece of wood up and make toothpicks out of it, and it wouldn’t be worth much at all – maybe 50 cents! The same piece of wood can be very valuable or very cheap, depending on how it is used.
And you know, the same thing is true of human life. It is a valuable gift from God, and should not be wasted. We must be very careful with the gift we have been given!”
That interaction between a father and his son drives home the importance of the Scriptures when they tell us to take into account the days we have to live and work and do what we do to the glory of God.
In Psalm 90:9-17 we read that Moses prayed that the Lord would teach him to number his days, so that he may “gain a heart of wisdom.” (Check out v. 12. And the Apostle Paul echoes that sentiment when he encourages us by saying, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
What that father was saying to his son is no less true for you and me. Our life is a gift from God, and He wants to make it into something valuable.
But He will not do it without our submission to Him. Our yearly goals (or resolutions) are one way to help us to achieve some sense of progress and accomplishment in demonstrating our submission to Him. So the question for you and me is naturally, “Which will YOU be — a treasure, or a toothpick?”
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.