A Year of Grace

Written by: 
Published:
January 5, 2023

When we think of grace, at the forefront of our minds is God’s grace of forgiving us and extending salvation (Amen!). Or we may think of the grace we (ought to) give to others. For if God forgives our debts, we should forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:21–35). But we often forget about extending grace to ourselves. Am I gracious to myself? Are you gracious to yourself?

Resolutions abound at the beginning of the year. And we can become laser-focused on meeting specific goals (drink eight glasses of water every day, read a book a week, avoid all social media, etc.) only to become disappointed if we miss the mark even once. Patterns of behavior are difficult to change. And just because January 1st rolls along, we don’t suddenly acquire a new personality. Old habits die hard. We can easily become discouraged if we regress into our familiar routines. Mental health professionals know how challenging it is. We try to remind people that many times, relapse is a part of the cycle of change. It’s not an indicator of being completely derailed, unless you choose to see it that way. Proverbs 24:16 describes the continual falling of a righteous person. To be called righteous while falling seems almost oxymoronic. Yet the person isn’t righteous because they fall, but because they get back up. It’s perseverance that makes the difference. And it is the recognition of grace that supplies the faller with the motivation to rise again.

One of the few YouTubers I follow, CGP Grey, posted a video a few years ago about themes. He advocated that, in lieu of specific resolutions, people should establish yearly themes for themselves. Themes are much broader and more encompassing of general ideas. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to “run 3 miles a day,” one might create a personal theme to “be more physically active this year.” This decreases the desire to define success by maintaining a perfect record. Isn’t that what God’s grace does for us? Instead of being burdened by the unattainable goal of living a pristinely unblemished life, God’s gift of grace covers us even when we falter—even when we fall. Oh, for us to be that gracious toward ourselves!

Should we throw away tangible goals altogether? Not necessarily. Depending on the desired outcome, having a specific target behavior will help us along the way. But these targets should be guides. Making or missing them once or twice should not make or break our ability to meet our overall objective. This concept brings to mind one of my favorite passages from Steps to Christ, which notes, “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.” In other words, it’s the overall trend over time that matters. Our year—and our lives—are made up of a totality of actions, not the stray one or two.

It’s a philosophy to hold in mind not only for the year but for a lifetime: extend grace to yourself. And when you fall down, get right back up.

Happy New Year!

 


Dr. Courtney Ray is an ordained minister and a Clinical Neuropsychologist. For her, this time of year marks new beginnings twice over: once for a new calendar year and again for her birthday. She will be gracious with herself if during her birthday celebration she eats more sweets than she typically does. After all, she doesn’t intend to make it a trend for the rest of the year!

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found by clicking here.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

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