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Out with the Old! In with the New!

January 2, 2012
This column is an excerpt from Kirk H. Neely’s new book
Santa Almost Got Caught: Stories for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.
 

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces: one looking backward, the other looking forward.  The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year.  We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

As a teenager, I remember that the last week of the year was the time to take inventory at our family’s lumberyard. Out of school for the holidays, I was available to help count fir and pine framing stacked on the yard, plywood in a warehouse, and molding and trim in the dark bins of a lumber shed.

The concept of a year-end inventory has stuck with me through the years. What have been some of the blessings of the past year? My personal list is always lengthy and includes family and friends. Every year has times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those present opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate.  This year a new calendar presents us with 366 new leaves and 366 clean slates. That’s right. 2012 is leap year.

Several years ago, I was headed out the door for a New Year’s Eve Watch Night communion service at church.  We had entertained a houseful of teenagers earlier in the evening. We had filled two large plastic trash bags with empty pizza boxes and discarded paper products. Clare asked if I would take the accumulated debris out of the house.  I stuffed the black bags into the trunk of my car and dashed to church in time for the service, delaying the dumping of the refuse.

Following the service, which ended past midnight, I drove home, completely forgetting about the unsavory cargo in the trunk of my vehicle.  New Year’s Day and the day after came and went.

On January 3, I opened my car door again for the first time since very early New Year’s morning.  The three-day-old garbage made my vehicle smell like a sanitation truck. I had made a mistake that many of us make in our own personal lives. I had literally carried last year’s garbage into the New Year!

A new beginning calls for focusing on the blessings rather than on the difficulties of a year now past. We have the opportunity to dispose of last year’s emotional and spiritual garbage, leaving behind past hurts and grudges.

The beginning of the New Year also brings with it a flurry of resolutions, ranging from the impossible to the foolish. Many pledges and promises will be short-lived and will meet with mixed results.

A man in Georgia resolved to win the lottery. He spent so much money on tickets that his exasperated wife left him.

A woman in New York resolved to adopt a new pet every month. Her landlord soon evicted her from her apartment.

Most of us have had the unhappy experience of making resolutions we could not keep. Failure to honor our goals has often left us feeling guilty.

The New Year is both a time for looking back and for anticipating the year ahead. It’s a time to reflect on the changes that might improve our lives and to resolve to make those changes. According to Time.com in January 2011, the top ten New Year’s resolutions made by contemporary Americans are also the ones we have the most difficulty keeping. This list may help you consider your goals for the coming year.

  1. Lose weight and get fit.
  2. Quit smoking.
  3. Learn something new.
  4. Eat a healthier diet.
  5. Manage money.
  6. Spend more time with family and friends.
  7. Reduce stress.
  8. Make better use of time.
  9. Simplify by getting organized.
  10. Quit drinking.

In my personal experience with New Year’s resolutions, I am more likely to be successful if the goal is not simply self-improvement. A higher goal is to make life better for others, as well as for ourselves. A few examples may prompt a similar sense of resolve for you. This is a list I have honed over the years.

  1. Express more appreciation for others.
  2. Perform random acts of kindness. These gifts of grace ease the way for others.
  3. Plant a tree or a few flowers to brighten a corner of the world.
  4. Recycle.  Doing so helps the environment and raises our awareness.
  5. Give a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. Kneel when you speak with a child. Call a person by name and look them in the eye. Personal contact enhances life.
  6. Vote. Your voice makes a difference for us all.
  7. Obey the law, especially when driving. Everybody benefits.
  8. Pray beyond your own circle of concern.  Impart hope to others.

The best resolutions are not so much the ones that make us better individuals, but those that make the world a better place for us all.

Out with the old! In with the new!

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2012
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