Be it Resolved
Every year lots of folks make New Years Resolutions.
I don’t anymore. They tend to lead to New Years Disappointments in my experience. I save my resolution for Ash Wednesday and the weeks that follow, thinking that I’ll have a better chance of being good if (a) the period of time is strictly limited, and (b) God is watching.
Let’s not focus on why we give up on New Years Resolutions, however. Let’s focus on our motivation to make them in the first place, which I think has to do with the problem of expectations, realistic and otherwise.
But, before I turn to the business of expectations, I will share one bit of wisdom I received several years ago regarding the most common New Years Resolution: to lose weight.
I know many of you are not afflicted with the desire to lose weight. I always have been. Pictures of me even as a baby give the impression that I may have eaten another baby just before the photographer said, “Smile.” For years, I tried to lose weight, often making New Years Resolutions to do so.
Until my dear friend, the late Ellis Nelson, told me that if I want people to think I’ve lost weight, I should simply buy new clothes a size or two larger. “Everyone will notice,” Ellis said, “And when they ask, ‘Have you lost weight? you can smile, say thank you, and lie.’” Much better, he advised than making frustrating resolutions.
We tend to expect better. And sometimes, thinking that we know what’s better, we don’t notice that “better” arrived already. But the “better” that arrived didn’t look like the “better” we expected, so we didn’t even see it.
During the years we were much younger, at our poorest, and living a long way from home, in Northern Scotland, we tried hard to make Christmas really special for the children since they wouldn’t be able to be spoiled by their grandparents then. One year we planned a day trip across the Cairngorm Mountains to see the famous Reindeer who had starred in the BBC production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Our expectation was that the reindeer would save Christmas and give us a glowing, happy memory to share.
In fact, the reindeer, when we finally got there, looked more mangy than regal in their sad little pen. We faced a horrendous snow storm on the way back in which the pass over the mountains was closed because of danger of avalanches, and we ended an exhausting day with the children in the backseat and Debbie and I navigating tiny one track roads in the Highlands in a blizzard.
But, here’s the thing.
When we stopped at the little village high in the mountains for a short break at the public toilets, we were given the story that made the whole trip worthwhile. The public toilets stood in the little town square inside a sort of windbreak made of granite stones. It was already dark, being past four o’clock in the afternoon at a latitude where the winter evening falls at three. The wind and the snow came whistling out of the west at gale strength, and the temperature seemed to drop with every passing second.
We got out of the car and ran for the toilets. Jeremy and I, once inside, had no problem with the unheated building which featured stainless steel seats on their toilets. We are guys. For the women of Clan Jinkins, life was nae so easy.
Jessica had been desperate to make it to the rest room. She was nearly in tears for want of relief. But when she and Debbie ran inside the little bare stone building, wind and snow chasing after them into the unheated women’s WC, and she spotted the gleaming steel toilet seats awaiting them, she turned to her mother with all the guile a five year old can muster and said, “You go first, Mommy.”
We wouldn’t have been disappointed at all when we stood before those sad reindeer, if we’d only known that story was waiting for us on the ride home.
There’s an old saying that God created human beings because God loves stories. Maybe it’s the expectation of good stories that keeps God sane when everything else goes awry.