New Year’s Resolutions & Tulip Bulbs

’Tis the season for new year’s resolutions. To me, they always come with a tone of get your life in order. Plot out the course for your growth in 2014. Figure out how to fix what’s messed up about you and commit to it. Goals. Targets.

This approach can work well in many settings, like strategic planning and behavioral change. But goals and targets and resolutions don’t fit in the spiritual life in the same way. Resolutions are about control, because I choose the goal. I diagnose my deficiency and find a path to eliminating it. Even if I’m open to help along the way, whether from friends or professionals or God, I’m still the captain of my ship, plotting the course myself.

This was my understanding for a long time of what it meant to be human. I thought that God made me halfway, and my job as a human being was to finish it. Figure out what’s missing, learn it, master it. Fill in the holes in myself. Complete the job. I was given a lifetime to accomplish this task. Then I would be complete. …And lovable. Life is the pursuit of being right and being loved because of it.

When this is the lens through which I see life, there’s a lot at stake in my competence. There’s a lot at stake in my being right in a disagreement. There’s a lot at stake in winning.

Then, a few years ago, the seed of a new paradigm was planted, by my spiritual director, I think. What if I am a flower bulb?  What if human beings are created whole and complete as they are, with growth ahead? What if the raw materials for the flower I am meant to be are already present in me? I’m not incomplete, I’ve just been given a journey of growth and becoming—not as an obligation, but as a gift. And that journey requires the input, the companionship of others. The bulb will need more materials from the soil, the sun, the rain in order to become a tulip. And, at the same time, the design for the future flower is already present in the bulb. With the cooperation of weather and soil, the Creator’s intention for beauty will emerge.

The Creator chose the final expression. The Creator designed the colors and the pattern of the petals. The telos—a biblical Greek word meaning the end, the target, the goal—is God’s.

In this season of resolutions, I’m reminded that the spiritual journey operates differently. For disciples, it’s about submitting to a process of growth rather than setting concrete goals/end points, because the telos is God’s.

My part is to just do the next right thing. I think of Abraham, who was invited to leave his home to go wherever God would show him. He had no idea where the journey would lead, except that it involved promise, and he was invited to trust God on the journey. I think of the Israelites, who wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, unable to plot their course because the location of the promised land was unknown to them. I think of Mary & Joseph, who were invited to welcome a child without any idea what was ahead, just a promise that this child would be part of God’s redemption of the world.

As I begin a new year, I’m grateful for the reminder that I’m not the creator of my self. As much as I may feel like mastery is necessary to be loved, I’m the bulb, created complete as I am—with the promise of growth and beauty ahead. And I don’t need to know where it’s all headed; I just grow, one step at a time.

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