Not to bring up a potentially sore subject, but how are your New Year’s resolutions going? I mean, it’s been a couple weeks so I think this is a fair question. I’m not asking this to put you on the defensive. For all I know, your new vegan diet is working brilliantly and your six-pack abs have already caused a stir at the gym. Of course, if things aren’t going exactly according to plan, you’re not alone. Apparently only 8 percent of New Year’s resolutions stick, which is why I pre-empted the whole thing this year by not making any.
As I thought about this annual tradition of making and breaking resolutions, it reminded me a bit of the spiritual life. We fall away from our resolutions just as we fall away in our relationship with God. Every person of faith, no matter how devoted, goes through cycles of engagement and disengagement. Sometimes this occurs around prayer, those conversations with God that offer perspective and relationship. We intentionally set aside time for silence and introspection and all is well for awhile, until the demands of our lives come crashing back in, causing us to stumble.
Sometimes it happens with renewed dedication to church attendance before falling away again. We get out of the habit or something happens in our lives that we can’t make sense of and we decide it’s just not worth it. It seems easier to give up on God and drown out the still, small voice within our souls that gently invites us back into relationship.
And it’s easy enough to do. Just turn up the volume on your life by avoiding silence, shunning introspection, over-scheduling yourself, staying online, and keeping the TV on. That’s pretty much the formula for avoiding the deeper questions of life.
These cycles of connection and separation don’t make us bad or weak, just human. They also bind us to the generations of saints and sinners who have come before us in the faith. People just like you and me whose faith has fallen short at one time or another.
The difference between breaking a New Year’s resolution and falling away from relationship with God hinges upon divine invitation. The guilt and sense of failure we put on ourselves when we give in to temptation and eat those bad carbs even after we resolved not to, is self-inflicted. In contrast, God doesn’t curse us when we stumble but offers a hand to lift us back up and make us whole. God continually invites us back into relationship; the invitation is always extended no matter what we do or fail to do. Which is an amazing thing and part of what makes God, well, God.
One of my favorite quotes from St. Benedict, the 6th century father of western monasticism, is “Even when we fail, always we begin again.” We will fail; we will fall. That’s not a question. But each stumble is an opportunity to begin again and renew right relationship with God. That hand with which God offers to lift us up is always extended in invitation. God waits patiently and eagerly for us to return.
So, perhaps you’ll resolve to draw closer to your faith this year. Or at least start asking some deeper questions about the world around you. No one has all the answers, of course, but every faith community helps us see the divine presence in our midst. And if you stumble along the way? That’s fine. Because “even when we fail, always we begin again.”
The Rev. Tim Schenck serves as Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham. Visit his blog “Clergy Confidential” at clergyconfidential.com or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.