Most of us, I suspect, have our own long history of broken New Year’s resolutions.
How many times have we begun a new year with the sincere intention of ending some bad habit and of finally setting ourselves to living life as we should have been living it all along and, after a very short time, have found ourselves again solidly embedded in our old habits and ruts?
What becomes more apparent each time this happens is how true is Aristotle’s dictum that ”habits are our second nature.” As we grow older, many of us, in a real way, despair of real change, of genuine novelty, in our lives.
Much of our life is in defeat, many of our dreams have long been crucified and even we don’t like much ourselves anymore, but we feel helpless, after having failed so many times in trying to change ourselves and our situation, of ever really making things any better.
Hence, most of us live lives not so much of quiet desperation as of quiet resignation . . . . “This is the way I am! This is the way my life has always been! This is the way I will always be!”
How to change? How to, as the Psalms put it, “sing a new song”?
Real change, as opposed to the simple desire for change and newness, is not easy. Our dissatisfactions with ourselves notwithstanding, there are too many things within us and around us that conspire to keep us static, in our old ways.
But the belief that things can be different, and for the better, is a crucial part of our Christian faith. To believe that there can be “a new heaven and a new earth” (and that we can be paragons of virtue and delight within it) is not something that takes its ground in natural optimism (for example, “I always see the positive in things.”) but is something that is rooted in the belief that “nothing is impossible with God.”
Real change is not easy, but it is possible. Our faith prescribes that possibility –and it prescribes it according to a certain pattern. To “sing a new song,” in the sense that our Christian faith intends those words, we must follow a certain paschal pattern for new birth. That pattern includes four movements:
From realism to faith . . . George Orwell once said that if you want an image by which to picture the future, imagine a human boot stepping on a face forever! That’s what a hard realism would, arguably, suggest.
Faith suggests something radically different. In faith we see that the deepest facts are, in reality, different and that, at the heart of death, there lie stunning surprises, namely, that death itself is not final, that dead bodies ultimately rise, that sterile bodies can give birth, and that defeated and crucified life rises from its defeat.
The beginning of true transformation begins in believing this.
From wishing to hope . . . Faith turns wishes to hopes. Dissatisfaction marks our lives and pushes us constantly to wish for things. We wish that we could be brighter, healthier, better looking, younger, richer, more talented, more respected, more loved, in a better job, in a better marriage, in another country, and so on.
Our daydreams are endless. But that is wishing, a desire not grounded in anything and which, consequently, most of the time, cannot go anywhere.
Hope is different. Unlike wishing, hope is grounded in a promise. We hope that life could be different, that we could live forever, that we could experience perfect love, that we could be known fully even as we know fully.
We hope these things not because it would be nice if they came true but because they have been promised us.
From dead waiting to gestation . . . We are, generally, powerless to bring about the things we wish. We wish for things but live in a certain dead waiting, powerless to actually effect them. Hope, however, does not leave us powerless. Every hope is a real impregnation that we can, in our own flesh, gestate to some kind of reality.
From the short road of instant results to the long road of fidelity . . . Hope promises us that mountains will move, but it doesn’t promise that they will move quickly! Hope is tied to a gestation process and gestation itself is slow and can never be rushed.
What hope promises us will come to pass, real change will take place, but only if we are patient and faithful enough to persevere. All things, we are assured by faith, come to those who believe enough and who are faithful enough.
Given this, let us do more hoping and less wishing in 2016!