The holiday season is a great time. A time to get together with family, friends, and loved ones. A time to reflect on the passing year, while looking forward to another one.
It’s also an excellent time to drink hot beverages and watch old movies. It was during this time when I happened to watch the acclaimed 1994 epic rom-com Forrest Gump, the sprawling tale of a slow-witted Alabama boy who could run like the wind and met at least a half-dozen U.S. Presidents.
As the hour grew late on Dec. 31, one line from the movie loomed large in my recollection: “Dontcha just love New Year’s? You can start all over… everybody gets a second chance.”
The turning of the year offers this for many in the form of New Year’s resolutions.
In researching and conducting interviews for a story in this newspaper about resolutions, I’ve found most people to be rather predictable. Many tend to view resolutions as a venue to opine upon traits or behaviors they hope to improve in the 12 months to come. Others take the view to not make any resolutions at all, lest they set themselves up for failure by aiming too far beyond what’s realistic.
Myself, I tend toward a compromise between overreaching ambition and bemused indifference on the subject. I hope to continue to improve, to get better with age, but it’s not something I feel compelled to quantify or set lofty standards. I am ambitious enough on a day-to-day basis to prevent much in the way of personal torpor.
During the holiday layover I also did some recreational reading on one of my heroes, and of the many resolutions he set for himself early on in his life. Resolutions, I would wager that went more kept than not. Nearly 300 years ago, at the tender age of 19, Jonathan Edwards made not one or two but a staggering 70 resolutions. Oh, and these weren’t resolutions for the next 12 months, these were resolutions for the remaining years he’d be on this Earth.
Like many of us, he made some resolutions around healthy living. Resolution 40 reads: “Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.”
Sounds like something I’ve head from many local people. Portion control and improved diet is something a lot of folks are concerned about, myself included. But Edwards’s resolutions were far broader and covered seven areas, ranging from his life mission and time management, to dealing with suffering and his spiritual life. How did he even remember them all? In the preface to his resolutions he resolved to read over them all once a week.
In Resolution 69 he says he wants to always to do things “which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.” Have you ever done that? Seen something good or noble that someone else does, and then wish you’d done it? Edwards made this a mission. Profound for anyone to think of, let alone a teenager.
Another of the most striking things about Edwards’ resolutions is their perspective. Though still barely even begun his proper adulthood, Edwards understood something that far too many of us too easily forget: that one day our lives on earth will come to end.
Resolution 7 says “never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life” and 117 says “that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” And one of my favorites is Resolution 52, Edwards says he “frequently hears persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again” and resolves to live in such a way as a young man. Ambitious, no?
Facing up to reality as a teenager, he was able to live the rest of his life somewhat “backwards.” That is, living today in such a way so as to avoid the regrets so many experience as the night closes in.
This has been on my mind of late, having participated in too many funerals for dearly-loved friends and family members during this now passed year of our Lord 2012. Our lives are but flickering candles, some burn better, brighter, or longer than others, but all will go out in time. The time we have before us is precious and the tasks we have before are of utmost importance, for our lives are intertwined with these things.
Life is approached very differently in the light of eternity. Eternity clarifies what’s important, and provides focus for what’s worth striving for, and what’s simply a short-term distraction. Eternity reveals that the greatest gains and achievements in 70-odd years are ultimately pointless, if they come at the cost of your soul. As you make your resolutions for 2013, by all means get healthy, spend less time at work and avoid repetitive reality television.
But also take a moment in the scheme of eternity to consider how to prepare your soul for the life to come.
Nothing is more costly, nothing is more priceless.