You Don’t Stand a Chance

Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:

“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”

Ching An

Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.

For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently:

  • If I slept better, I could do more each day.
  • If I ate better and exercised more, I’d probably sleep better.
  • Maybe if I prayed more, I would be more successful with diet and exercise.
  • But to spend more time with God requires more time. I could get up earlier to pray, but I’m not getting enough sleep as it is…

And on and on. In past years, I would end up in a sort of Zeno’s paradox. The philosopher Zeno claimed that, if someone wished to walk a path to its end, he must first walk halfway to its end—but before he can get halfway, he must first go a quarter of the way, and an eighth, and so on, forever.

Because there are an infinite number of midpoints that must be crossed, you can never reach the end of your journey. In fact, you can never even begin.

You say to want to follow Jesus? Zeno says you can’t get there from here—you don’t stand a chance.

Of course, you could ignore the infinite half-steps and just take the first step, and the next. Since we don’t know the length or the loops in the path, what do midpoints matter anyway?

Nothing magical happens on New Year’s Eve that better equips us for the future—indeed, most New Year’s celebrations are more of a last hurrah than a fresh start. And we know too well our tendency to stumble and fall, to get distracted and disappoint ourselves.

This year’s man is last year’s man.

But we have a Savior who can accomplish all things, who knows our weakness firsthand, and who loves us nonetheless. This year’s God is also unchanged.

The first two principles of spiritual combat are distrust of self and confidence in God. So this year, rather than making the same old promises to change your own life, recommit to Christ. Make Jesus your only goal for the new year and ask Him each day what He wants you to do for Him. He will take care of the rest. And if you are doing what God wants you to do on a daily basis, do you really think you won’t become the person you are meant to be?

You don’t stand a chance!

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