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New Year's Resolutions and Personal Transformation

So you’re a week into your New Year’s Resolution; How’s it going?

Walking path at Rittenhouse Town Homestead, Wissahickon Valley Park (photo by Lindsay Brooks)

Here’s the thing about “personal transformation,” as important as it seems to you, it’s only really a secondary result of greater things. I know there’s a popular view that people change through effort, and it seems obvious that effort is involved. But here’s the rub: some people change through effort. Some people do not, no matter how much effort they put in. When you have a presumed cause that misses as often or more often than it hits, it could be we aren’t seeing the whole picture.


From the perspective of a person observing the phenomenon of transformation, it mostly seems non-volitional. Children just grow up, mature, and become adults by simply living long enough. Brash, abusive young men become sage, gentler older men because heartbreak happens, fear happens, life’s behind-whoopin’s happen. Most of this is unrelated to the individual will to personal transformation.


The universal report of every musician everywhere and throughout all time, without exception (cuz I’ve asked them all), is that progress at their craft came in quantum leaps after long plateaus of little or no improvement at all. It came haltingly on its own; or, whatever higher power they imagine doles out improvement is pretty stingy with it. Practice disciplines didn’t change, or they changed, or they did it a lot that week, or not at all. Whatever happened, happened.


From the Bible’s perspective, God is able to use angry immature people, people lacking in self-assurance, people who are depressed, people wrecked by their own mis-deeds or stupidity… God seems to be the one to bring them to maturity, and make them able, or use them when they’re not able.


Mostly, if you want transformation it’s best not to dwell on it overmuch. It might be better to look at yourself less, rather than more. Set your eyes on God’s requirements, love God, love neighbor, do it as best you can. Take self-examination about as seriously as you take your bathroom mirror. You look at yourself exactly long enough to get yourself in order, then you get out of the mirror and look at others.


One thing is sure, pursuing God changes people. It causes us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It causes us to be shocked at the hardness of our heart, which in turn causes us to be shocked at how apt we can be at loving. Our hearts can unclench, both from fists of violence, and to release whatever we were death-gripped upon. The Master Smith knows how to refine the metal and pound the steel into something beautiful and useful. I know this passage is about needs like food and clothing, but by principle, I think it is applicable here, too: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." As always, whatever little power you have, be faithful.

LB

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