People commonly find the beginning of the year as a great time to turn over a new leaf. And why wouldn’t they? The metaphorical slate is essentially wiped clean. Just in the first few days of 2017 I have already seen more people running and walking than usual. My friends are making themselves accountable for eating healthy, sleeping adequately, reading more books, etc. The resonating theme for each new year seems to be “New Year, new me.”
While these commitments are outwardly beneficial, I would like for us to take a step back and become aware of our motivations for these resolutions. Sure, pursuing a healthy lifestyle is a wonderful commitment to make, but why are we doing it? Is it to feel better about ourselves, or hope other people think more highly of us? I want to bring to the table that perhaps we make New Year’s resolutions with hopes to fill an internal void that we all inevitably feel. I will be the first to be honest, and say I am guilty of this. Maybe if I do “x”, “y”, and “z” I will have more confidence, and the overall state of my life will get better.
I catch myself thinking that an external change will drastically yield an internal change of how I feel about myself.
Twentieth century pastoral theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich namely identifies three types of anxiety humans are prone to experience, but I want shed light on what Tillich calls the anxiety of meaninglessness. The anxiety of meaninglessness comes with the fear of emptiness, and (self-explanatorily) the loss of meaning in our lives. I am sure we are all familiar with the looming fear of purposelessness. We ask if what we do matters, or if we even matter.
Tillich identifies how people traditionally cope with this fear and anxiety. We “keep anxiety bound within a protective system of courage,” meaning we find external ways of coping or medicating legitimate internal concerns. For example, the person who struggles with self image will perhaps try different diets, and join exercise classes but still finds those things ultimately do not bring him/her satisfaction. Eventually, all methods we participate in fall apart because they do not address what we internally struggle with. Thankfully, this is not the fated and destined end for humanity.
We have what Tillich calls the antidote for the burden of anxiety: courage.
This courage is strength to “affirm [one’s own life] in spite of the dangers announced by fear and anxieties.” Yes, life will end. Yes, the fear of not having or walking in our purpose is real but it is not the end to which we are called. These are not reasons to throw in the towel, and give up. We are not stuck in the mud with no way out. We find the source of this courage in God by actively agreeing in participation with what God says about us.
God loves us. God is radically committed and in love with every individual who is, was, and will be a part of humanity. Only God is the ultimate source where we find courage to overcome our anxieties, fears, and insecurities. Denigrating views on self-image diminish in the face of God who confidently and boldly loves us in the midst of our spiritual journey.
This challenge of participating in meaningful New Year’s resolutions is coupled with engaging in enriching spiritual disciplines, and spiritual formation. Rather than just running off the pounds to feel better about ourselves, let us first run to God who is already embracing us. There is no set limit on the ways people can connect with God.
No matter the medium, let us open ourselves up to receive God’s affirmative love.
Our internal state of living in harmony with God’s love is a powerful catalyst for effecting a lasting transformation in our habits of doing, and thinking. The foundation of living and existing in the reality of God’s love empowers us to experience physical and spiritual transformations, helping us become who God is calling us to be.
This New Year let us find the strength to love ourselves through God instead of outward changes of habit. The way we live can function as an external expression of God loving us. These external expressions do include (but not limited to) taking care of our bodies, cultivating our minds through books and movies, and befriending more strangers.
Ultimately, let our changes of habit reflect God’s love, our courage to be ourselves, and living purposefully and confidently.
 Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), 62.
 Ibid., 115.