Discipline vs. resolutions: a new perspective on goals 

I decided to write about resolutions in the middle of January. It only seemed fitting.The middle of January is usually the time when people stop talking about New Year’s resolutions. The hype fizzles out. From the day after Christmas through that first week of January the internet is buzzing with self-improvement, goals, and a desire for all of us to be better humans.

I will admit I like that about January 1. I like this idea that maybe all of us want to be better versions of ourselves. It’s pretty cool to think of an entire culture striving towards improvement.

But it’s usually two weeks into January that we become deflated. We ate the cake. We stopped getting up early. We fell behind on the Bible plan. We begin telling ourselves, “Maybe next year. Maybe next year.” We forget that our goals and resolutions lack power if we never master discipline. Discipline unlocks change. Discipline breaks habits. Discipline ensures that what begins in January can carry into a lifetime of progress.

January 1 is another day. It's wedged between December 31 and January 2. Nothing about January 1 comes marked with a promise that you'll be any different, or any bit more capable than you were the day before. That's just our culture--we romanticize and lean into the idea of monumental changes in one fell sweep. We like to put on party hats and say goodbye to cheese, and clutter our minds with perfectionist-driven resolutions.

In reality, January 1 is about as effective as a Lifetime movie. But you know what is effective? A decision and a small step. One thing you can handle. Find one thing that gives you no choice but to sink your fingers into the skin of God out of your need for Him.

When I first became a Christian I thought it was a lot easier than this. I thought you simply had to love Jesus (or at least believe in him) to be in the club. That much is true but there is more to this faith thing, there is so much more beneath the surface of it.

There is a difference between a Christian and a disciple.One is a name and the other is a way of life. To be a disciple is to lay down your life. To lay down your life means to give God access and control to your circumstances, your health, your possessions, and your relationships.

The definition of a disciple, apart from being a follower of Jesus, is one who is a student. To be a disciple is to be committed daily to learning and knowing love, humility, moderation, and hard work.

Nothing about being a disciple and cultivating discipline can be tied to self-help or a day on the calendar. Discipline requires we start right here, right now.

I'm participating in a "Read the Bible in a Year" plan that my friend Tory Vore created. It's part of my "goals" and "plans to be a better human in 2016"-- to read the Bible in a year. For anyone who has ever tried to read the Bible in a year you already know that it's a lot of Bible. A lot everyday. I went strong for the first few days and then I started missing days. I missed one day. And then another. And suddenly I was behind the pack and they were all ahead of me, and I felt left out and defeated.

But as I sat the other night and talked about it over dinner with my boyfriend he asked me why there was such an enormous need to catch up. Like, why scramble to read through all the missed pages quickly just to stay with the group? Wouldn't I miss the marrow? Wouldn't I miss the purpose?

I hadn't even thought about it that way. My mind was only giving me two options for this reading plan: give up and just start over at some other point or play a serious amount of catch up. Basically I would be cruising through the story of Moses without pausing to hear what God is speaking through His Word. The first option is all about me. The second option is all about me.

My goal was to read the Bible to grow closer to God. But the way I was acting was translating into, "I am reading so that I can prove to others that I was capable of doing this challenge." That's the danger of goal setting--we set Instagrammable goals more for other people than ourselves.

Truthfully, I rarely think about God when I set most goals for myself. Even worse, I set a lot of "God goals" but still act like He isn't in them.

"Just start where you are," my boyfriend tells me.

Just start where you are. This will be the hum of my new year. This will be my 2016 challenge: to go to God and start in prayer by saying, “Here I am, Lord. Here I am with my palms up and my heart ready for you to do the work in me. I don’t bring you resolutions. I don’t bring you goals that take me farther from you. I bring you myself— full of doubts, and failures, but all this glowing hope that you could really heal me— and I ask you to start with me here in this humbled, low-to-the-ground space. Just start with me here. Finish the work you started before I got in the way.”    

Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher founded the global organization More Love Letters in 2011 and cofounded If You Find This Email in 2015. Her memoir“If You Find This Letter” is now in bookstores across the country.  Connect with her on Twitter.   


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