January 2, 2017

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During the turn of each year, we bet on the future through New Year’s resolutions. Though we do not plan to lose the bet or fail to see these resolutions through, we often end up failing to finish them. Many people have said that making resolutions is one way for us to ignore or avoid the lives we have. Betting on the future is a way to avoid the “poverty” of the present, and bet on a luck streak, windfall, or magic moment. The sad part is that our present lives are not actually impoverished so much as we don’t know how to live a life that has everything in it—what we want and what we don’t want.

Changing our lives begins in the present, rather than someday.

While New Year’s resolutions are no doubt an expression of hope, these promises about who we will become are birthed in the frustrations encountered in the present, including the difficult work of change in the present. Resolving to become different in the future can become a masterful way to avoid doing the work of today. Promises can be a way even to avoid facing the tragic nature of life. Contrary to the belief in some carnival magic of the future, changing our lives begins in the present, rather than someday. We create a part of the future by living today. It is not something that comes to us, or that we will be one day. The future involves being able to live well in the frustrations of the present, and mining the possibilities of the present.

True hope and real resolve is lived in the present. Working toward what we want our lives to become is where hope becomes an action in the present. We really can make the humdrum of daily effort as pleasurable as dreaming about what our lives could be like some day, whether we want to lose weight or buy a new house. We do so by acknowledging our willingness to let something matter and taking action accordingly. That means: 

  1. Acknowledging your own passion—a willingness to be in pain for something that matters more than pain
  2. Stating the purpose of your passion 
  3. Living a daily plan with passion and purpose

Finding romance in the ordinary is the most radical form of hope at the start of the new year. Otherwise, we spend our lives waiting for Santa Claus. And at the end of our time, when whatever we wanted to happen may or may not have been brought to us, all we will be able to say is that at least we waited, at least we remained loyal to our belief in Santa. Belief in some day, again, can allow us to trick ourselves to avoid the frustrations of the present for the fantasy of a perfect future. By living the present, we can have a future. The ability to leave our ordinary lives in favor of a future life becomes tragic when we, as Wallace Stevens writes, “live beyond ourselves in the air.” Not living beyond ourselves involves us fully engaging with the frustrations and glory of the gravity of daily living.