I’d reached the top of the hill at Glasgow Necropolis and, looking out over the city, I stood for a while thinking about all the exciting and sometimes stressful things I’d be doing with SCM in 2019. One of the bigger challenges I’ll be facing is a 130 mile walk from Glasgow to Iona as my contribution to the 130 Challenge. It soon started to rain and so I ducked under the entrance of a large mausoleum – mud caking to the bottom of my shoes, the sky not letting up, and no hope of somewhere dry to eat my lunch. One week into January and I was still deliberating over whether to set myself a resolution for 2019.
If you’re anything like me, it isn’t a lack of ideas that’s the problem, it’s trying to decide which resolution might be worthwhile. When I look at my life I can see a hundred ways in which I could be better – fitter, more successful, on top of everything and in control. But this impulse to self-improvement has the potential to quickly go south. This is where we see the prosperity gospel gaining ground with promises that obedience to Christ will result in material wealth, and that holiness and health are intertwined. In such a theology those who succeed have been blessed by God because of their faith. The flipside of this view is that the poor, the disabled, and the disadvantaged simply don't have enough faith; are not holy enough to be blessed.
So am I saying that making a resolution is the same as conflating goodness with success? I'm not sure. I know that in the past I have made resolutions that have benefited me, but not necessarily in the way that I expected. In 2015 I resolved to attend church at least once a week except when illness or being out of town prevented it. I thought that this would make me happier, and on reflection I am happier for sticking to the resolution. But it isn't that simple. I haven't always been happy in the last three years, and sometimes church has caused me grief and stress. My life is so much richer - I am involved in a loving community and I've been held in that love in times of trouble. But I've also faced disappointment, had disagreements with people, and dealt with the myriad tasks that come with responsibility in any organisation. So yes, the resolution changed my life, but it hasn't all been blessings and victories.
Perhaps when making our resolutions we should be less concerned with the results we expect, and more interested in the doing of the works. I hope St Paul will forgive me for disagreeing, but I'm not running a race to gain 'the imperishable crown.' The way I see it, resolutions are more like going for a walk in the Scottish countryside. You don't go walking in Scotland expecting sunshine and a nice spot for a picnic. You go because the walk is needed and, you hope, enjoyable. It might be lovely...for a while. But it will almost certainly rain at some point, and you might step in something nasty or get a tick bite, and there will probably be midges. But who knows what beauty you're going to see along the way?