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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions

On 1st January each year an epidemic of fevered optimism sweeps through our land.

We take stock of the previous year, and then huge numbers of us determine to make changes for the better: exercise more, get organised, keep to a budget, learn the piano, and see more of our family. Gold’s Gym in the US reports a 40% increase in new memberships from December to January each year. Mark LoCastro of DealNews says: ‘Gyms typically take advantage of consumers’ interest in New Year’s resolutions to get back in shape.’

New Year’s resolutions are not part of some 21st-century self-improvement fad; there are records of ancient Babylonians making them 4000 years ago. And we’re still at it, despite study after study showing less than a quarter of us remain committed to them a mere 30 days later, and only 8% of us accomplish what we set out to do. Chances are that if you, like me, made one of those purposeful lists about a month ago, you are feeling slightly sheepish right now.

What is so compelling about these lists? What drives us to take the opportunity of a new year to determine to improve ourselves and our lives? And is there any point if we fail so fast and so consistently?

All of humanity, Christian or not, is made in the image of God. That’s a good place to start in understanding the draw of making fresh resolves. We were made to be holy and for shalom – wholeness and harmony with God, each other, and creation. Our drive to make something of the world around us and to restore balance to our days is hard-wired into us – part of our created human identity. Perhaps we are drawn to the idea that a new year offers a new start because our creator is the God of fresh beginnings and his mercies are ‘new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:23).

Our colleagues, friends, and family members who don’t know Jesus may be feeling demoralised right now by another year failing to meet their own intentions to improve. We could try to cheer them up by quoting the late American minister Norman Vincent Peale: ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ Or we could talk about what we’re all really longing for – holiness, shalom, and the one in whose presence all yearnings are met.

Jo Swinney
Jo is an author, speaker and Director of Church Communications for CPO. She blogs at joswinney.com and lives in Bath with her husband and two daughters.

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