Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
The day following Thanksgiving has come to be known as “Black Friday.” It is hard to imagine the adjectives used to describe the day after Christmas.
“Return Day” just cannot do justice to the huge pile of rejected gifts that are on display at the customer service desk. Reflecting on the Christmas season, if purchasing and giving gifts made people grumpy, it’s not hard to imagine that taking back the fruit of that labor is going to be unpleasant.
Perhaps then it is a good thing Christmas is closely followed by New Year’s Day; there is something exciting for most people to get excited about. The potential down side is that during much of the post Christmas/pre New Year’s week, there is a consistent theme of self improvement. Unfortunately, people are mostly wondering what you are going to do to improve you.
The burning question after Christmas is, “Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet?” The difficulty in navigating that answer is twofold: First there is the question what does this person think I need to improve in my life? The second is what am I going to have to do to escape the question? I can’t have people thinking I’m going to just jump into the New Year without at least some mandatory soul searching.
I’m not sure the psalmist was thinking of New Year’s resolutions when he said, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12 NIV). Even with the biblical encouragement to “number our days,” resolutions are often more about fixing what we didn’t do the year before.
The dilemma is there is a reason why I didn’t lose weight, spend more time with my family or play more golf. And until I sort out those reasons, there is no basis to expect change. Note: Those are not my actual resolutions, but in reviewing the list they are certainly worth considering.
The sad reality is the planning of the resolution usually lasts longer than the actual performing of what has been resolved. Perhaps one thing that could help us is a statement by Paul as he wrote to the church at Philippi. Here again this is not necessarily related to the new year, but he said, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” Or put another way by the great philosopher Eyore, “Keep your behind, behind you.”
The simple truth is, we can’t fix an hour ago let alone a whole year. So let it go, forget it and if possible, learn from it. If you think of the new year as a journey you are preparing for, a good question to ask might be do I really want to pack that thing around with me all next year?
It turns out that forgetting is the easy part; in fact, it often happens naturally at a certain age. The hard part at times is knowing that forgiving and forgetting are two different things. A commonly heard phrase is, “I will forgive, but I won’t forget.” That simply means I am not actually forgiving you; I am just going to get even at a later date.
Someone wiser that I am said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” It really does hurt you more that it hurts them.
I need to make a quick point in closing since a lot of people immediately want to make it about them. “Yes, I have to forgive myself” is often heard. Well, I have never been a big fan of self forgiveness, because it does not work in the real world.
If I borrow money from the bank to buy a car and when the monthly payment comes due, do I go to the bank and announce, “I have forgiven my debt”? Chances are I will soon have a conversation with a tow truck driver.
If I stand before the judge and say, “No need to sentence me judge. I have forgiven myself,” will he say that’s a relief with the current problem of overcrowding in our prisons? Likely not.
Bill Upton is pastor of Tooele’s First Assembly of God Church.