Every New Year’s I go through the same thing. I fail to come up with a good resolution. I scroll through everyone else’s resolutions and read articles about all of the goals I could be setting. I subconsciously add each person’s resolution to a list that lives in my head. I’m not going to read the books that other friends are reading. I’m not going to do as many push-ups as I should or change my diet in a dramatic enough way. I won’t be as organized as everyone doing the Marie Kondo thing, nor write as much as I wish I would. Maybe you feel the same way?
The list I create is a list of envy. A list of ways I am not good enough. It is long.I give in and decide I’ll try a bit harder at everything.
There’s a baptized version of New Year’s resolutions that saunters into church on the Sunday after the calendar turns. We replace exercise more with pray more. Eat more vegetables becomes read the Word. It’s so easy, I almost preach it myself.
But I noticed something this year. I noticed that the pull to read my Bible more at New Year’s was the same pull that makes me want to wake up earlier and stay up later. The muscle that flexes which makes me want to pray more is the same muscle flexing, telling me to make more lists, to get more done. Does Christ’s voice simply get louder in our ears at New Year’s, or is there something else at work?
The impulse to do more and be more is not an impulse shaped by the practice of eating at the Lord’s Table. The impulse to improve myself at New Year’s has not been cultivated by being a part of the people of God. I could add another thing to my list and scratch the itch, but I don’t want my routines, my rhythms, or my resolutions to be guided by an impulse I have co-opted from living in a world where I am constantly told to do more and be more, to strive for individual greatness.
So I am practicing silence.
I imagine that it is silent while the Magi look up and see his star rising in the east for the first time. It is silent when the shepherds are startled awake by the angel of the Lord. “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a translation,” wrote Thomas Keating.
I’m practicing silence in January because silence feels entirely unproductive.It does not satisfy the New Year’s impulse in me at all. When you are silent the New Year’s muscle flares up immediately. It makes your legs fidget; it whispers in your ear that you are being silent incorrectly and are stupidly wasting your time. Like practicing Sabbath, practicing silence requires that you produce nothing. It forces you to watch, listen, and pay attention to yourself, to God, and to the world.
Rather than start the New Year by ambitiously reading my Bible more or praying with a renewed fervor, I’m going to practice silence. Maybe I’ll end up praying and reading scripture more this year as a result. But it won’t be my resolution.