I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. The whole thing plays just a little too much into the “trying to achieve something by human effort” thing for my comfort. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it works-righteousness, but it might be in that sort of a realm. As a follower of Jesus, it’s not really where I want to be going.
However, it occurs to me that “resolution” has another meaning: “the state of being resolute”. Determination. Drive. Ambition, even. Righteous inflexibility, perhaps.
I’m going to reveal how entirely unAmerican I really am by saying that I’ve always been suspicious of drive. I can seldom if ever hear “I’m a very driven person” as anything positive the way you Americans seem to; what I hear is “I’m a jumped-up martinet and my employees hate me”.
“Determined”, similarly, is a polite euphemism for “stubborn, obstreperous and probably argumentative”, and ambition always carries the subliminal meaning of “selfish ambition”.
I was actually complimented on my work ethic during one of the Christian discipleship schools I’ve done. I shrugged and blushed, as I recall. As far as I’m concerned, the way I do things is applied laziness more than hard work. I’m going to make sure I do it right the first time so that I don’t have to come back and spend more time doing it again, and I’m going to work hard at the task in order to get it done so that I can go and do what I want to do. Applied laziness. I don’t actually like working all that much.
Ambition has always seemed dangerously toxic for followers of Jesus. It carries unwholesome baggage of “putting yourself first” and trampling over other people in your quest to succeed. At the very least, the ambitious Christian is seemingly in danger of building their own kingdom, not Christ’s, and from there it builds into a pseudo-sanctified self-centredness at odds with the character of Christ. “Success” is the way of the world. Christians probably didn’t ought to be seeking it as an end in itself.
Except that the Bible doesn’t necessarily say that all ambition is bad. We’re told to avoid selfish ambition, but what if there’s another kind? Is it ok to be ambitious in the Kingdom of God?
Joseph had a dream about ruling over his brothers and parents. Paul was called to be an Apostle. Ambition? Perhaps, but a matter of fulfilling Divine calling rather than the drive to push oneself to the top. Maybe this is what an unselfish ambition looks like.
The thing is, I probably wouldn’t use the word “ambition” for it.
“Resolution”, on the other hand… Resolution I like. It doesn’t have the same baggage as the other words. It’s a positive, manly trait, though hardly restricted to just men in its expression. It’s more in line with the Biblical virtues of perseverance and patience than it is with the awful notions of drive and ambition as I tend to perceive them.
Resolution says that I need to keep going, keep trusting, keep holding on to faith, even when it’s hard. Resolution says that I can’t just give up and roll over. And Resolution says that there are limits to what I can bend myself around.
I’ve always prided myself on my mental flexibility. I can adapt fairly easily to strange cultures; I learn languages easily; I don’t often have a lot invested in my personal preferences, so if you want something different I’m usually quite agreeable.
But what I’ve had to learn is that there are limits. Wisdom does not consist in bending myself into whatever shape you want me in; there are lines that you may not cross. I want to be nice, I want you to like me, I don’t want to inconvenience you or put you out in any way. But I do have an integrity that you may not compromise, and it’s been quite a long journey in discovering that. I do actually have preferences and standards that I cannot compromise without negating who God has made me to be.
Learning to be inflexible where I need to be has always been more of a challenge than learning to flex myself and suborn my preferences to those of another. And this is where resolution comes in.
So if I’m making a New Year’s resolution this year, it’s to develop Godly resolution. To learn when not to flex, but to stand firm and strong. To persevere and to push forward where necessary. To cooperate with God in discovering that corollary of who He has created me to be: what I truly want.