Just over 40% of people in the country make New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you are one of those people who decided to exercise more, lose weight, spend less time on the internet, or take more time off this year. If you’re like me, than you are all too familiar with another fact about resolutions: By mid-February, roughly 80% of people who made a New Year’s resolution have given up on it. So I wondered this week, “Why is the rate of failure so high?”
I love the answer Steven Pressfield offers in his book, The War of Art. “Most of us have two lives,” he writes, “the life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” The unfortunate truth is that all change in our lives, no matter how positive or beneficial, requires some degree of stress. Whether you begin to feel anxious, depressed, frustrated, tired, afraid, or simply bored—this emotional resistance to change is the jet fuel of failure. What ends up happening is we sabotage our well-intended efforts of change.
Suddenly, it’s too cold outside to go to the gym so we’ll just stay at home with Netflix where it’s warm. Or we just don’t have enough time to cook healthy meals so we’ll just run through the drive through on the way home. The art class sounded like a good idea but we’re not sure we like the teacher that much and who has the time to find another class anyways?
Interestingly, Pressfield notes that the more important the call or action is to our soul’s growth, the more meaningful that resolution you made, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. You can almost use resistance as a compass point to determine whether a path you are trying to take is the right one or not. If the path seems easy and requires little change or no added commitment, it is most likely neither the path of greatest growth nor way God is calling you to go.
That’s why I love Matthew’s note in that the Magi, after being warned in a dream, returned home by another road (2:12). I think there’s something deeply poetic about that. As one scholar writes, “Nothing is the same. You don’t take the old road any longer. You unfold a new map, and discover an alternate path.” If we are not changed by our encounter with God, if no new commitment is demanded of us or new challenge extended, then we are not truly following the light of God. Then we will never experience any kind of real spiritual growth.
We are simply allowing our resistance to change to take us back down paths we have already traveled–to destinations of disappointment, restlessness, and un-fulfillment that we know all too well. While that path might be easier, the path God leads us on always brings us to deeper meaning in life and more authentic relationships with others. We must be committed to the change we want to experience in our lives—committed enough to endure the discomfort and resistance that will arise when we try to make positive change in our lives. Rather than yielding to resistance by trying to escape the friction involved in change, we must learn to stay the course.
So this week, if you haven’t already, I want you to think about one way you want to grow in your spiritual life this year. Maybe you want to find a small group to get to know people and study the Bible with others, maybe you want to take time every day to pray and reflect, or maybe you want to volunteer more with our mission projects. As you set a goal for growth, I also want you to think about how you will deal with resistance when it inevitably comes knocking on your door. Who are going to be the people you motivate you to keep going and how will you get back on track if you slip up? Today, a new light for a new year shines for us, inviting us to follow it, I hope you will respond and take a new road.
[This post is adapted from Pastor Austin’s Sunday sermon. To watch the full sermon, click here.]