If both Hanukkah and Christmas commemorate moments where we remember that God intervened in our lives -- be it by keeping a single-day of oil burning for eight days as the Jews rededicated their temple or impregnating a young woman to give birth to a baby who was to show the world what love looked like in action -- then the approach of New Year's should naturally stem from the awareness that God is among us. December reminds us that our lives are more than just ours. We go into January knowing that there is something bigger at play.
I want my New Year to be birthed from a really divine place. I want my hopes to feel magical. I want my dreams to feel in alignment with my work in this world. I want my resolutions to change more in this world than a few pounds off my body. I want my goals to not just feel like an obligatory to-do list or a re-hash of last years failed attempts.
Whatever belief system you have in place and whatever word you use for that which is bigger than us -- I hope you'll take the time to bring the true spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas into your New Year.
Who We Want to Be In 2013
Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners and author of forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good, sent out a newsletter this morning that speaks to this point. He spent the first part of 2012 researching and writing this book about the common good and how we seem to have lost this concept in our politics and our society.
He says, "What I learned in the course of writing was how ancient the concept of the common good really is." This quote dates back to the fourth century:
"This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good ... for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for neighbors." -- John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407)
My roots are in Christianity, but yours doesn't need to be in order for that quote to still matter. In fact, some of the most beautiful "imitators of Christ" are the atheists, agnostics, other-religious, and non-religious people I know.
For no matter the religion we do or don't subscribe to, what most of us still quote would be what we call the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
In other words: Work toward the common good. Care about those around you. Love.
Setting Our New Year Intentions
So as I sit with that this morning, I want the seeds of my New Year's resolutions to come from that place of the common good. Therefore the question I need to be asking myself isn't only "How can I improve my life this year?" but also, "How can improving my life this year serve more people?"
Some of the questions I'm asking myself:
- Am I as loving as I want to be?
- Am I acting with as much courage as I am meant to have?
- Am I becoming a more generous person each year?
- Am I growing in my own self-awareness so that I am taking more responsibility for my triggers, my responses, and my defensiveness?
- Am I living more often from a place of joy?
- Am I growing in my compassion and empathy for those around me?
- Am I seeing emotional growth in my life that excites me?
For many of those questions, I find myself pausing, unsure if I can unequivocally say yes. When I notice that pause, I am then asking, "What could I do in 2013 to become this more loving, courageous, and centered person that I want to be?"
Doesn't that feel so much more significant than beating ourselves up about our body weight, our spending habits, or any other number of actions that produce our immediate guilt? And don't we think that by focusing truly on who we want to become -- people with more joy, peace, patience, and courage -- that we'll find our other habits changing to align with what is now more true for ourselves? I think so.
So rather than encouraging you to add "Make three new friends this year" or "Call one long-distance friend each week" to your New Year's list, I'm instead inviting you to start from a deep and quiet place to ask yourself: "What quality can I grow that will help me love others better?" Who do you want to be? How do you want to expand?
Then whisper a prayer that expands that in you: "I'm willing to become a more loving, forgiving, generous, kind, centered, hopeful, and patient person."
Choose to be one more person in this world who cares about the common good, who doesn't vote only on self-interest, and who chooses to live from love instead of fear. And from that place of wanting to grow into a more loving person, trust that your love will pull more people in to give it back to you.
Your love will not produce an empty vacuum, but rather will create a circle of love surrounding you with more meaningful relationships, life purpose, and consequential joy. For love begets love. Love drives out fear. Love invites greater love. Love changes us. Love changes the world.
And that is what I call the greater good. Happy New Year!
Follow Shasta Nelson, M.Div. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GFCircles