“A Life Unfolding”
by Margaret Weis, Ministerial Intern
January 1, 2012 – First Parish of Watertown
Another year has passed. We are all another year older, more experienced, and perhaps even wiser. We have had many new experiences, and have experienced the familiar in new and different ways. We have met new people, and become more acquainted with ourselves. In the 365 days that have passed between last January 1st and today, our lives have developed.
For some of us, that development has come in moments of turmoil or grief. For others, the development comes from intense moments of joy and gladness. There are some among us who will speak of the wonderful year we have had. Our most recent journey around the sun may have brought the blessings of a new job, retirement, a grandchild, or a wedding. We enter into the New Year feeling revived, refreshed, and ready for all that lies before us.
Others among us may speak of a year filled with concern and worry. Perhaps this past year brought a diagnosis of cancer. Perhaps it has brought struggles with mental illness, unemployment, or a loss of faith in ourselves and in the world around us. We enter the New Year feeling drained, discouraged, and hopeful that the 2012 will be better.
The reality is that each of us has probably experienced a mixture of these moments and emotions in this past year. It is unlikely that a year has been wholly bad or wholly good, and it is much more likely that it has been both … for life is not made up simply of joy or pain, but is a complicated and yo-yo-ing combination of the two.
In some ways, our lives are different than they were a year ago. In other ways, they have remained the same. In some ways we are different, and in other ways, we are the same. Indeed, each year, change is bound to happen. But this change is not the simple result of the passing of time. Rather, it stems from the events we experience and our reactions to them.
It represents the unfolding of our lives and the unfolding of who we are.
This unfolding occurs because time offers us the opportunity to change. Time allows the space for us to blossom into our full selves. Through our life experiences, we become more fully who we are and in time we come to understand what that identity means.
In our first reading this morning, Chittister refers to each year being a growth point in life. A growth point. An opportunity to grow and blossom and shed another shell of life! Just like those little wooden Russian dolls that stack one inside another …. And another …. And another. We are multi-layered beings, and we unfold with time.
In the coming of each New Year, we are invited to reflect on time passed. Just as Thoreau expressed his wish to live deliberately, we are reminded that life is not about going through the motions. A full life is not lived slumping from day to day and year to year. It is about living deeply. It is about living deliberately. In doing so, we reflect on who we are and how our lives are unfolding. In this reflection, there are often things we have said or done that we wish to change. Oftentimes, this is not possible. We may realize that in the past year we have not lived up to the standards we hold for ourselves, and resolve to make a change in that pattern.
Perhaps this desire to change is rooted in our wish to re-live or change the past, or perhaps it is rooted in our hopes for a better future. Maybe this change is rooted in our desire to become more fully who we are, to hold ourselves up to the highest standards we can. To kickstart this idea of change, we make a New Year’s resolution.
Do you remember your New Year’s resolution from last year? I don’t remember mine. I have never been particularly great at New Year’s resolutions. Year after year, I make a mental list of things I want to change, or think I need to change, or ways that I want to make my life more meaningful and fulfilling.
This is the annual time that we list out the things that we feel are wrong with our lives and make a commitment to change them. This year, I would lose ten pounds. That year, I would save more money. This year I would floss every day! Every day! And another year I vowed to never use a single plastic bag. And without fail, those resolutions would go unrealized. At best, I would make it barely through the month of January before I would default to my old ways. Was it because I was holding myself up to standards that were too high? Was I expecting too much from myself? I think not. And I wasn’t alone!
Statistics show that fewer than 50% of New Year’s resolutions are still maintained six months after they are made. Somehow, this knowledge is supposed to help me feel better about my inability to remember my reusable bags, or deal with the guilt I feel when my dentist asks if I’ve been flossing.
Last year, my wife Susan and I were discussing our New Year’s resolutions. I had my usual list that included eating more healthfully, taking time to rest, and joining a gym. Her list was a bit different. There were about ten items listed out. Two of my favorites read:
• “Read as many (or as few) books as I want”
• “Cancel gym membership”
Aren’t New Year’s resolutions supposed to be goals toward a more healthful and fulfilling life? How does quitting the gym and not reading get those results?!
This list may seem a bit odd, given its negative connotations. After all, we know that goals made in a positive light are more likely to be accomplished than those worded more negatively. But, this was the perfect resolution list.
It shows the knowledge that a gym membership does no good unless it is actually used! And creating the requirement to read two books per month can take the simple joy out of reading in the first place! These decisions were also rooted in something more fundamental. Susan loves to read, to expand her mind and her imagination. But that love doesn’t come from setting and hitting an arbitrary numerical goal. And she never used her gym membership. She feels at home on a bicycle … an actual bicycle where the wheels hit the pavement and you go places. She loves to swim … and her gym didn’t have a pool.
And so, Susan made the decision to follow her goals of health and knowledge in a more productive and effective way. For her, this meant deciding to go for more bike rides and swimming on her lunch break. It meant picking up a book to read after a recommendation from a friend or because she wants to learn a new skill, not because it was necessary to hit her quota.
Her resolutions were made with conviction and the realization that deciding to do something is one step in the process, but setting oneself up for failure or feeling inadequate would thwart all progress from then on. A resolution is meant to be a bold statement, a commitment to action that promotes well-being and justice in the individual and the world. It seems that only when these resolutions are made with conviction, will they be upheld. And it requires knowledge of what we want and how we see our lives, in order to make them stick. A resolution must be deliberate.
Resolutions are decisions we make publicly to change, and to commit the time necessary to do so. The idea behind announcing our intentions is rooted in the power of community. If others are aware of our goals, we will be held to a different standard. This is why resolutions are meant to be conscious decisions that are publicly shared. Resolutions are a big deal!
Take, for instance, a resolution made by the Unitarian Universalist Association at General Assembly in 1993. It is a resolution regarding violence against women that addresses many of the systemic influences that contribute to and maintain patterns of such violence. Part of the resolution reads: “Because Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and living with dignity includes freedom from physical and emotional violence and the fear of such violence in the home, workplace, church, and community … we, shall break the silence, examine the nature and consequences of harassment, develop educational programming, promote legislation, promote personal accountability, support training programs” … the list goes on from there. The document is pretty lengthy and thoroughly outlines many key issues and efforts to address them.
Now THAT is a resolution! That is a bold statement made publicly in a way that holds us accountable, and allows for an unfolding of justice and compassion for all persons, everywhere. And that resolution was with conviction, commitment, and a passion to work toward change.
I wonder if our resolutions might take hold a bit more if we focus less on the behavior we wish to change, and more on the foundations of them. Perhaps if we strive toward deeper goals, we will be more committed and invested in the result. The resolution I read is based on the first principle of Unitarian Universalism. It has a foundation of faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we are open to change because it is part of our faith. This is how we see the world … and this is how we envision the future … this is how we see the world’s story unfolding.
As Unitarian Universalists we believe so much in the concept of unfolding that we see our faith as unfolding with time. We believe that revelation is not sealed, that love is boundless and intricate, and that each of us can grow and unfold each and every day! We believe that faith can grow … and change … and become deeper and more fulfilling. And we believe that our personal decisions and actions either aid in or prevent that fulfillment.
And so it is with each of us, seeking growth in our lives to become more deeply and fully who we are. Making commitments to change the way we see the world and how we function in it. As we reflect and seek to grow, our hopes for the future must be rooted in our convictions and our faith. If we make resolutions as Unitarian Universalists, perhaps they will take on a different form.
For instance, the resolution to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen is a great goal. And when it is seen through the lens of Unitarian Universalist values, it takes on a whole new dimension of power. Joining a CSA or farm share program not only gives us access to locally grown, organic vegetables, it also promotes local farming and sustainable practices. And choosing to ride your bike to work instead of drive not only offers a chance for exercise, it also helps the environment and the world. Our interconnection and interdependence is intricately woven into these goals and choices.
And when these resolutions are made in our faith community, from our mutual values, our lives are unfolding alongside one another.
When we make choices and changes that are consistent with who we are as individuals and members of a community, we are more likely to follow through.
So, my friends, as the New Year unfolds, let us journey together in ways that are life-giving and promote justice and connection with one another.
Let us live our lives deliberately and deeply. Let us resolve to practice patience, compassion, and love … for ourselves and for others. Blessed be. Amen.