The Challenge: Taking a Personal Inventory
Empty lines on dated pages are set, ready and waiting to be filled with the black ink and pencil marks that shape the year as our lives fill the days.
The crisp whiteness of the untouched paper seems to reflect the excitement that accompanies the reality of a new beginning. And the false guilt of falling for a cliché melts away beneath the truth that we were made to hope for perfection, taught to work out our salvation and hard-wired to appreciate second chances.
The nearly irresistible urge to make a New Year’s resolution is as much a part of our nature as our desire to number our trips around the sun. Standing on the edge of a new year can be more freeing than a good spring-cleaning, and a solid New Year’s resolution can make you feel like a kid with a book bag full of new school supplies.
January 1st is as good a time as any – if not an even more compelling time – to take a spiritual, mental, physical and relational inventory of yourself; to decide whether or not you are proud of each detail you see, and to begin stepping in the direction of improvement and healing.
Perhaps you find yourself locked in a cycle of negative thinking, or feel like you are becoming a slave to a certain behavior, or maybe you just have some plain old bad habits. Alcoholics Anonymous is an incredible organization of people who help one another conquer the addiction that controls their lives. Unfortunately, not all destructive addictions are as easy to identify as alcoholism. (Take, for instance, prideful addictions like the need to be right and the refusal to apologize, which can damage relationships and destroy families.) Nevertheless, the twelve step program used to help members of AA find freedom from their addictions can be adapted and applied to any area of life. It’s a great tool to help you get refocused no matter what your shortcomings may be. The steps (slightly paraphrased) are:
1. Admit we are powerless over our addiction or problem.
2. Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
3. Decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.
4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Be ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Make a list of all persons we have harmed, and be willing to make amends to them all.
9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it.
11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Have a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, and try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Hope: Be Who God Created
Romans 12 gives a list of instructions for how to live life well. It begins by saying, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” (Romans 12:3). Take an honest look at your heart, and without comparing yourself to others, ask whether you are living up to the potential God created you to fulfill.
The passage goes on to explain our individual roles on earth by using the analogy of the human body, with each of us represented by a different part. We look and function differently from each other, with various abilities. Yet we need each other. In fact, we are entirely dependent upon one another if we desire to survive and thrive.
This means two things for how we should view ourselves, especially as we consider what our New Year’s resolutions may be. First, we should not look down on the way we were made or desire to become someone different. We each have our own unique purpose to fulfill, and if we start trying to become something we’re not, we will end up missing out on the purpose for which we were made.
Second, it means we should work hard to develop our talents and abilities and learn to control them in order to best benefit the rest of the body. The Message version of Romans 12 puts it beautifully:
“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.“
Verse 9 reflects the calling we all share as members of a single body:
"Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.”