“Finish the year strong.” The clichéd exhortation is aimed at us all—the businessman trying to meet project deadlines and annual budget expectations, the student preparing for semester finals, the average Joes and Janes navigating holiday chaos with an eye toward some vague sense of individual improvement in the coming year.
The calendar itself sets us up for failure. For instance, if it’s personal wellness you’re after, the season is situated perfectly for self-sabotage. We come out of our gluttonous Thanksgivings ready to “get our acts together” and find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the season of cookies and candies and cakes and cocoa. We say to ourselves, “Well, I’ll start over when the New Year comes,” but we’re still in vacation mode come January 1, and the festivities the night before set back our low-calorie/low-carb visions to depressingly low levels of actuality. (“Well, okay,” we tell ourselves, “the first Monday after the start of the year . . .”)
And even if we manage to avoid the dietary pitfalls of the holidays, remaining smugly “pure” amidst all the carnal beasts around us, it’s the emotionally draining spirit of the season that gets us. There’s the round of year-end appointments and holiday parties, the comings and goings of family, the decorating and planning that begins to feel more like chores than cheer. There’s the financial burden of providing a fun holiday for the family while not blowing out the budget or diving deeper into debt.
And then there’s the general malaise that strikes so many at Christmastime and into the New Year, that nagging sense that all the revelry and sentimentality is but a poor substitute for what our hearts really need. The holidays become simultaneously festive and fearful, delicious and, honestly, kind of discouraging. Disappointing. Maybe even depressing.
The Problem Inside
While everybody else is amped to “finish the year strong,” to reboot their workout and financial and career and relationship goals for the new year, you may feel like you’re limping across the finish line. Or being dragged against your will. There’s good news for you.
First, that feeling of angst around the holidays is a reminder of a couple of crucial truths every human being must reckon with sooner or later: we are weak in the soul and no personal goals will strengthen us there.
You can lose weight and develop muscle—and let’s face it, a lot of us probably should—but looking good on the outside will not solve the problem inside. We are inherently weak—both because we are creatures (and not the omnipotent Creator) and because we are sinful (which means we are spiritually weaker than we were even designed to be).
The Apostle Paul captured the frustrating tensions between aspiration and reality with deep Spiritual insight in Romans 7 when he wrote:
For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. (Romans 7:15-19)
Apply liberally to your New Year’s resolutions.
You might wonder how this is good news. Well, it’s not the entirety of the news that is good—more on that shortly—but it is good in the sense that it is finally the right diagnosis of what ails us.
Every year, we imagine all the wonders of the holidays, even just the time off work or time spent with family, will soothe the ache in our souls, but it never does. Our souls were made for more. It’s good to know this, so we stop expecting more from God’s gifts than he’s designed them to carry. It’s always good to be honest, including with ourselves.
Weakness Isn’t Worthy of Shame
When we take the burden of solving our heartache off of our holiday planning or New Year’s resolutions, we can finally, actually enjoy them and pursue them with freedom.
Secondly, though, finishing the year feeling weak is a huge spiritual advantage. Why? Because felt weakness is the way to experiencing the Lord’s spiritual power in our lives. Elsewhere, Paul writes this:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In context, Paul is referring to a “thorn in the flesh” that makes him constantly aware of his weakness. This thorn was a satanic affliction of some kind (2 Corinthians 12:7) that was nevertheless sovereignly allowed by God. Your thorn is likely much less dramatic, but it’s no less important to your understanding of what ails you—and what saves you.
Finishing the year weak will not be your downfall. You may feel hopeless, helpless, or somehow left behind. But your felt weakness is the key to your leaning more fully into the God who made you and loves you.
So don’t be afraid to confront the hollow promises of Christmas sentimentality head-on. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have what it takes this New Year.
You don’t have to have what it takes.
Your spiritual success will not be built upon your efforts or exertion but upon the Spirit of the living Christ, who sympathizes with you in your weakness, who became weak himself to the point of death, and who has conquered the grave to ever live in intercession for you from heaven. All because you couldn’t. While you were weak, he deigned to rescue you (Romans 5:6). And in your weakness, he will be strong.
Finish the year, then, in his strength, which might mean renouncing your own. Boast in your weakness, so that Christ’s strength may be your glory.