Every year about this time, Americans like to make New Year's resolutions -- lists of things they want to do, or have (or stop doing or stop having) in the upcoming year.
Most resolutions deal with self-improvement: stop smoking, go on a diet, exercise more,
And we do try.
We buy jogging clothes and go running, throw out the cigarettes, stop eating cookies and snacks -- for about a day, right?
Resolutions are well-intended but so hard to keep.
The Apostle Paul gave us kind of a formula for making and keeping resolutions, when he wrote to the the church in Philippi in Phil. 3:12-14: "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Rough translation: "I'm really trying to be like Jesus in my thinking and in my behavior. Haven't achieved it yet, but I'm going to keep on trying. So I need to stop focusing on the past and on my failures, and keep my eyes on the person I do want to become."
Forgetting what lies behind. Hmmmm. Not so easy to forget the failures is it?
But if we keep focusing on them, we'll be dragging them along with us into the future.
A few years back, our church began what has now become a New Year's tradition to help us cut the emotional cords to our failures and to the things we want out of our lives.
We burn them. Literally.
At the beginning of the first service of the New Year, each person receives a piece of paper and pencil or pen with instructions to write down anything they don't want to take into the new year with them.
In composing the list, we are told to "confess our own sins," not somebody else's.
And we are to include attitudes as well as habits and health issues. Some leave-behind suggestions: extra weight, smoking, too much salt -- too much anything -- fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, bitterness, grudges, procrastination, laziness, criticism, judgmental spirit and unkindness.
We end our first New Year's service by taking the lists outside. Then we stand in a semi-circle in front of a pan or kettle or other fire-proof container.
We have a prayer and offer these lists to God, asking His help in removing these things from our lives. Then one by one we go forward and toss our list into the fire.
Sometimes we sing, and end by thanking God for what He is going to do.
Each of you can do this on your own, or you're welcome to come and join us Jan. 5 and participate with us. Sometimes the combined faith of many has a greater effect.
When we include God in our resolution making, we do seem to have better success.
Have a happy and blessed 2014!
The Rev. Anne Barber, is pastor of My Father's House, 7215 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.