Many start the New Year with resolutions; with a hope that at the end of the year they’ll be better people than they were when they started. That they’ll be a version of themselves who’s fitter, better read, more cultured and a better chef, who manages to get their to-do lists done before turning up prepared to a lecture at 9am. Or maybe, like me, you’re someone who gave up on these resolutions years ago, because if you’re honest, you’re a little scared of failure and are convinced the probability of failing on your resolutions outweighs that of you succeeding, so it’s maybe just not worth even trying. I think in some cases these two mind sets also apply when we set about trying to change our lives to look more like the ones God is calling us to lead. It seems like an impossible task, and sometimes we get convinced that the inevitability of failure is something that we must succumb to or forever live in shame.
Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed with all the issues we see around us, we start to think that if we take a stand on one thing then we are going have to turn our lives upside down. We almost start to believe that if we engage with social justice in some form that by tomorrow we should really be living in our own zero-waste eco house with our home grown food, washing our hair with the shampoo that we made ourselves from vinegar, whilst also solving Glasgow’s homelessness problem and providing a home for a refugee family; and then we remember that we have an assignment due in and that we hate the smell of vinegar, so all of that (along with our dream of becoming an ethical extraordinaire), vanishes for another day.
I think God offers us a different story.
It is only when we really know who we are, that we can start acting out of our God-given identity. As God’s dearly loved children and co-heirs with Christ, we don’t need to be afraid of failure or not doing enough. We know that what we do doesn’t have an impact on who we are, because it was never what we did that that made us who we are. As children you expect to look like your parents, and so just like Jesus in John 5, we only do what we see the Father doing, so really we should be looking around us to see what the Father is up to. When we realise it’s not our job to save the world because God has already done the work, things become less overwhelming.
This reminds us of Philippians 3 when Paul says: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Our righteousness comes from faith in Christ and nothing else. It doesn’t come from how well we do social action, how often we study our bible, how good we sound when we worship or even how often we make it on time to church. It isn’t something we have earned ourselves, it’s a beautiful gift that Christ has bought by dying for us on the cross. When we realise that, it doesn’t seem to matter so much that we are probably going to fail when we go to try and take up something new, and it doesn’t matter that we can’t go from zero to a hundred in ethical living within a day. We realise that it’s enough to just try.
This liberates us from the fear of failure and gives us permission to let go of our pride of and our self-righteousness, just to start doing something. That something can be anything. As Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Let’s start with these small things. Whether it’s committing to give financially every month with money we could have spent on coffee, or volunteering a few hours a week with a local charity, these are the small things we can do with great love.
Let’s not let the fear of not being able to do everything paralyse us into doing nothing. Let’s take the small steps and follow our Father wherever He goes.
Words by Helen Dunn