In 2004 the country singer Tim McGraw released a single with the title "Live Like You Were Dying." The song was about a man who learns he has a life-threatening disease and how it changed his perspective on life. His illness gave him time to reflect upon the life he had lived and how he was going to change his life in the future. He sings about skydiving, bull riding and many of the other things we might have on our bucket list. But the song has a serious side to it as well.
There is a shift in the song and the singer is no longer singing about the man with the disease but now focusing on his own life. Suddenly, because of this man's illness, going fishing with his dad is not an imposition. He becomes a better husband and father, he reads the Bible for the first time, and he gives forgiveness that he has been holding back. His perspective on life changes, as he comes to grips with his own mortality and he makes a change to be a better person.
Many of you will be making New Year's resolutions and, if you are like me, by this time next week they will all be forgotten! We will decide to lose weight, read the 10 greatest works of literature -- one year I decided to read presidential biographies, I did pretty good with this one, but I did not finish it. As the New Year begins we stand in an open door. We have 365 days ahead that are all blank pages. What will we write on those pages?
Some of us long for the way things used to be -- the way it was in the "good ole days." Those days are gone. They are in the past and we cannot go back. We cannot change the past -- we can only influence the future. We need to learn from our past, but living back there is not healthy and it will not move us forward.
For some of us 2013 was not a very good year. We have a choice -- we can be defined by our past or we can remake our definition by striking out and writing the pages of our future with hope. We can take a stand today and proclaim in a loud voice that "I will strive to make this year better than the year before."
So forget the resolutions to lose weight and other surface resolutions and focus on the change that really matters. Like the song, we can all do with a makeover on the inside and a reshuffling of our priorities to spend more time with family and to be better husbands, wives, children, or friends. We can love more deeply than we have in the past. Love and faithfulness are the two qualities that should guide our lives and these should be the foundation of all of the others. Love is fundamental to the human condition and it is the only thing that will change lives. In the song he promises to love deeper and to speak sweeter, not just to the ones he loves, but to everyone. Imagine how the world would be if we just did these two things.
Forgiveness is key in any relationship, including the relationship we have with ourselves. In the Orthodox liturgical services we start each one seeking peace, peace from above and peace with those around us. We are to be at peace with all so that we can find peace, and this peace will only come about through forgiveness. Withholding forgiveness will eat at us like the illness the singer mentions in the song. It is always there each and every place we go, and constantly reminds us of the hurts of the past. We can do nothing about the past but forgive and start the process of healing. Maybe the person that we need to forgive most is ourselves. Spend some time with yourself and offer that forgiveness that we have been denying all these years.
I mentioned love earlier, and love is the one thing that can change the world. When the young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus told him to love God and love his neighbor. Love is central to everything and love of neighbor is important in that equation. Apathy towards the suffering of others has become an illness that we need to eradicate. It seems we only care about the suffering of others if it directly affects us; I hope and pray that I am wrong in my thoughts on this.
As we say farewell to 2013 and welcome 2014 let us resolve to make this year a year of change, change for ourselves and change for others.