The new year brings New Year’s resolutions to do better and to be better this year than last. These resolutions normally have undergirding assumptions that become familiar clichés (a moment of silence for the clever motivational speaker from Dallas, the late Zig Ziglar, along with his prudent ilk): If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. A goal properly set is halfway reached. Your attitude, more than your aptitude, will determine your altitude. Do it. Do it right. Do it right now.
There’s nothing wrong with resolutions. In fact, if you make them, I recommend keeping them modest and achievable, and enlisting support from others to reinforce you beyond Jan. 1.
But we have just come off the Christmas season in the Christian faith, in which Mary plays a prominent part. Her role begins with wonder at the way things happen to you more than the things you make happen. Can you imagine her sitting down on that New Year’s Day before the angel Gabriel arrived and saying “I resolve to become a mother this year by a divine act of love alone”? Like so many things in life we could never anticipate, the course is not what we chart but how we navigate.
Mary’s life was altered for good and for good the day the angel brought her the good news. She could never have conceived it on her own. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human mind conceived what God has planned for those who love him,” St. Paul said in paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah. What she could do was consent. She could agree. She could cooperate with God in welcoming the Christ and bearing God’s love into the world.
“Let it be unto me, according your word,” Mary said. Let it be. What a lovely way of seeing our way forward. Instead of striving to do something for God, we allow God to strive within us to do something through us. Faith is first a letting-be. It’s letting God have God’s way with us.
The prayer journal of the wonderful Southern short-story writer Flannery O’Connor was published this year. In her early 20s, she wrote: “I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.” How very Mary of her!
One of the hazards of resolutions is the temptation to preoccupation with oneself. The more you think of yourself, the harder it is to think of anything or anyone else. Which is why the French mystic Simone Weil would say: “It’s not my business to think of myself. It’s my business to think of God. It’s [God’s] business to think of me.” And God is good at God’s business.
So the first thing to do this year might be to leave your heart open to the unexpected divine appointment that you don’t get to schedule for yourself. The next is to let it be, to allow God to work in you so that God can work through you.
But Mary’s initial “let it be unto me” had to be followed by acts of obedience to that call that would call forth her best efforts, too.
So be it resolved that first faith leads to lasting faithfulness this year.