The New Year is often a starting point for folks to make positive changes in their lives. Gym memberships skyrocket, a ridiculous amount of kale and kombucha is purchased at grocery stores and people order the latest and greatest athletic clothes and gadgets. You see a lot of new shoes on runners in January.

By the way, kale is gross. If you say you like kale, I just assume you’re lying.

The excitement for change often collides with the steps necessary to achieve change and thus most changes rarely last long. I am not saying this out of a sense of pessimism but rather through my own experience of failing miserably at radically changing my life at the beginning of a “new” year.

I should probably add I’ve only ever kept one New Year’s resolution. My resolution, many years ago, was to no longer make resolutions. It’s been pretty great. I still have goals; I still want to change and be a better version of me, but I try to not put a lot of weight into something as arbitrary as the New Year when what I’m really looking for is a “new” year.

So how does one make positive change in their lives? Well, I am certain you could pick up any one of about a million different self-help books that have the “Seven Secrets of a Happy Life” or “Ten New Life Hacks to Be the Best Person Ever!” I’ve read some of these books. I enjoyed the momentary rush of will power and enthusiasm to be the super human Jake I always wanted to be, but then I would go back to making bad choices and reverting back to negative behavior.

Since I’ve worked at Floris UMC doing community engagement and volunteer work, spent time in seminary courses and walked with so many people through their joys and suffering, I think there are two things that really matter in becoming a better and “new” you: surrender and practice.

Surrender is probably the hardest thing for me. It’s hard for most I believe. I want to control everything that happens in my life, but it simply doesn’t work like that. Jesus tells us that if you want your life, you must lose it. You must give up who you are and follow him. As I age, this lack of control seems even more present. So much of this life is out of our sphere of influence, and yet, there is an overwhelming sense of confidence that comes from saying to God these simple words: “I am yours.” This is how Reuben Job, a former bishop and well known writer, says that he ends most of his journal entries. It’s also quite the affirmation if prayed regularly.

Practice is the other part. If you want to be good at anything, you must practice. If we do not give time to those things that honor God and bring joy, we simply can’t expect to feel God’s presence or joy in our lives. God is ever present but not if we don’t take the time to recognize it. Joy from the things you love or the relationships you have don’t magically happen. They take intentionality and time. You have to do the work.

If I can make any suggestions to folks, and remember the source (a guy who is also just trying to figure it out), consider making space in your life for surrender and practice. Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Try to spend 10 minutes a day stretching and praying.
  • Journal about what you’re grateful for.
  • Buy a book of daily devotionals and read it when you’re drinking coffee.
  • Don’t drink coffee? That’s silly; start drinking coffee!
  • Read scripture. Everything you need to know about life can be found there.
  • Take a walk. A long walk.
  • Say this affirmation: “God, I am yours. Do with me what you will.”

I am not saying you need to do all these things to have a great year, but I will say this: cultivating any acts of surrender and practice in 2017 will bring you closer to God, to your family and to your spiritual nature. With these simple actions of surrender and practice, you can, at a minimum, have a “new” year.

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