At this time of year, when everyone’s busy reviewing the past and making resolutions for the future, I am reminded that to me one of the most beautiful concepts in Christianity is the idea of a “fresh start.”
Jesus wants us to start over
Throughout his ministry, Jesus consistently emphasized the need for starting over. “Except a man be born again,” he taught, “he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Baptism, the central ordinance of Christianity, is a symbol of the death and burial of our old self, and the birth of our new life.
Aside from many scriptural examples, we are also taught by nature. Every time the sun rises, we’re reminded that we have a new opportunity to live differently than we did the day before. Each spring, we see the cold death of winter give way to beautiful new life and abundance. And yes, I believe the revolution of the earth around the sun once a year — otherwise known as a New Year — is another example of this eternal truth.
None of this means that Christ doesn’t love us exactly the way we are — he does. Even if we never changed, he would love us just the same. But he invites us to change because he knows we’ll be happier if we do, and he has provided us with a lot of help for getting there.
What this means to me
To me, the idea of becoming a little better every day with help and guidance from God is central to the purpose of life. I like to begin each day with a prayer to discuss with God exactly how I will serve him that day. At night, I check in to report my progress. Even more central to my spiritual development is my weekly participation in the ordinance of the Sacrament, or Lord’s Supper. For Christians, this is the opportunity we get each week to evaluate the path our lives are taking, commit to changing where change is needed, and receive forgiveness for the previous week’s indiscretions as we “begin anew” in the week to come.
Following that line of thinking, the New Year is another opportunity to evaluate progress on an even wider perspective. On this time horizon, I tend to allow my goals to be a little more vague and abstract — more like the “theme” of my personal development for the year. For example, my annual goals this year include:
- Being more diligent and concerned at home
- Being less frenzied, more wise & deliberate
- Being more bold
- Sharing more with others and being more “human”
In Ezekiel 11:19, we are taught that God wants to help us by “putting a new spirit in us” and “taking the stony heart out of our flesh” to replace it with a heart of flesh instead. I am fully aware of all the pain and damage caused to me and others by my “stony heart,” and I pray that over time I can be the recipient of this miracle mentioned by Ezekiel.
How you can start over
The first step to starting over is to step back and get some perspective. The larger the change, the more perspective you need. On a daily basis, you don’t need much more than a little bit of thoughtfulness. On a weekly basis, you might want to set aside a few minutes to ponder or meditate before you start setting goals. I like to make my annual plans after I’ve had at least a few days of vacation (preferably more), such as at the end of the Christmas/New Year break. The key is to find a time when you are relaxed and refreshed.
Once your plan has been made, it’s critical that you check in on your goal periodically and make course corrections as needed. When I’m making my daily plans, I’m checking them against my weekly objectives. When I’m setting weekly objectives, I’m basing them on my monthly goals. Weekly and monthly goals are based on annual “themes.”
Finally, if you haven’t yet been baptized, I invite you to consider it. Most people think baptism is for people who are reaching the end of their faith journey, but in fact the opposite is true. Baptism is the gate that opens to the pathway of Christ. It creates a covenant relationship between Him and us, and prepares us to receive the Holy Ghost, or baptism of fire, to help us on our journey.
God’s plan is perfect. He loves us just the way we are, but he invites us to change so we can be even happier and more blessed than we are now. To help us, he has given us time, a mortal world in which to gain experience, guidance through his spirit, and help and support through other people, for which I am eternally grateful.
Someone I really look up to once said “I don’t need to see a mountain move, because I have seen things change in my own heart and in the hearts of others that I never thought were possible.” I share that feeling, and I’m thankful for the small and simple changes I have made in my life that, in the course of time, have made mountains of difference in my character, soul and happiness.