What to do When Our Resolutions Don’t Deliver

Welcome to the start of the semester! I pray the winter break offered you time to rest and recharge. The beginning of a new semester and a new year is a time for many to establish new patterns and habits. There’s something about the change to the new year that offers the right kind of occasion to imagine how we might improve. While it may seem that New Year’s resolutions never have staying power for many, that doesn’t stop us from imagining all the things we might do or do differently. 

Lest you despair of ever keeping any of your resolutions, ongoing research into the nature of habit and behavioral change offers ways to increase the likelihood of making and keeping our resolutions. The folks at the NPR podcast Life Kit have even put together a New Year’s Resolution Planner to help us increase our chances of success. 

Yet even the best-kept resolutions might not go far enough to make the improvements that we long for. When a fragile sense of self-worth or hidden sense of guilt or shame lies behind our longed-for resolutions, we may be counting on more than even the most profound change of habit can deliver. We may aspire to fellowship with God, yet the mind and will of God elude us because of our impulse to self-absorption. We long for true companionship with others, but our neediness gets in the way of true friendship. We seek to make something of ourselves and prove ourselves to others, yet we fall short of our own goals.  If the new year finds you stuck with your shame, wondering where God is for you, or wondering if you even matter, then an even older tradition offers a fresh way of looking at yourself.

For millennia, people have been confessing their guilt and shame before God and receiving forgiveness and honor from God. This exchange is at the very heart of God’s being.  Christian pastors like Pastor Kate and myself are sworn agents of this divine forgiveness mission. We are committed to hearing people’s confessions of guilt and shame in strict confidentiality and bringing God’s forgiveness – most fully expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – to bear on the situation. 

This practice of describing aloud the whole nature of something that holds us captive to a person whom God’s people have designated as God’s agent and who is charged with declaring forgiveness over us has the power to rewrite our life’s story from one of our own incompetence into that of perfect divine grace. To help with this work, we use this script. The script writes you into God’s story with room for your particular details.

Pastor Kate and I will offer forgiveness without an appointment when classes are in session every Sunday starting at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Other times are available by appointment through our youcanbook.me calendars. 

Peace and joy, 

– Pr. Jim

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

January 10, 2024