A new year, an old tradition: the making of resolutions. Some of us will say No to nicotine this year, others will sweat and swear in torture chambers cleverly renamed elliptical machines. We’ll kick old habits, kick start new ones, and hope by February we're not kicking ourselves for making and breaking yet another resolution. Whatever your goal this year, it’s best to keep it real by remembering this painful fact: it’s just as hard, if not harder, to unlearn an evil as to learn a good. That seems to be the way it goes with me anyway. The bad habits and self-destructive ways of life we foster are, generally speaking, things that we thoroughly enjoy. “Let’s face it,” my mom once told me, while delivering a lecture on making the right moral decisions in high school, “sinning is fun.” It certainly can be, or pleasurable, or even downright exhilarating, depending on what your pet sin might be. That’s one reason, when you retreat and it woos you back, you return like a sow to wallowing in the mud. Pigs like their mud, we love our self-destructive ways of life. To unlearn them takes more than a day, a month, or a year of merely resolving to do better.
It also takes more than you. For we host an inner student who, when it comes to learning anything bad, always scores an A+. Evils find this ally within us. As Paul once lamented, “The good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish,” (Romans 7:19). Boy do we. It would be hard enough to unlearn evil and learn good if we were fully on the side of achieving those goals. But when a huge chunk of us remains unconvinced of the need for change, indeed, is hell-bent on not changing, then we’ve got major challenges ahead.
“A long obedience in the same direction.” I’ve come to love that saying. And I’ve come to hate it. I love it because of its truth, because it doesn’t offer me a quick fix, an overnight transformation of the self. And I hate it because of its truth, because it doesn’t offer me a quick fix, an overnight transformation of the self. One thing I know: I don’t want to be the same person I am now when I turn 50 or 65 or find myself on my deathbed. But if anything is going to change, I can’t wait until I’m 49 or 64 or get an inkling that I might be nearing the end of my earthly pilgrimage.
I’m not an optimist, but a realist. I know that the ally of evil within me will never finally die until I myself leave this world. God may drown this inner foe a million times, and a million times he will bob to the surface, a menacing smile on his face. I know that there will be times when nothing in life will seem more beautiful, more enticing, than that wallow in the mud. But I also know that I am not alone in my struggles. I have a wife who loves me unconditionally. I have friends, and a church, who embrace me as a brother in the faith. And I have a brother in God himself, who became a man, experienced the alluring power of temptation, and never wallowed in that mud, precisely so that he might lift me up when I fall, wash the mud off me, and stand ready to kick the devil where it hurts when he bids me follow my old self-destructive ways.
All of this is why I won’t be making New Year’s resolutions. I’ll be making new life resolutions, because unlearning evil and learning good is a lifelong quest.