Ancient Conclusions for New Year’s Resolutions

It’s the week after Christmas, which means this is the week in which we are all supposed to be reflecting meaningfully on the past year and preparing our new year’s resolutions for the year ahead, right? Cue wisdom, profundity and insight.

New Years ResolutionsSo far, this is what my list looks like:

  • reduce sugar intake
  • exercise more
  • sleep more
  • pray more
  • spend less time on my ipad

This is hardly the stuff of Yoda-like wisdom. The list seems so paltry that it hardly seems worth making any “resolutions” about it. If I rack my brain, I can make the list a little more quantifiable:

  • complete the children’s annual photo books from the last two, three, four years
  • read more classic works of literature
  • switch off screens by 10pm

What is unnerving to me is that my list of resolutions, half-hearted as they may be, looks strikingly similar to last year’s one. And the year before that too. There is nothing new under the sun, the wise King said in Ecclesiastes. Nothing new indeed.

A little time in Ecclesiastes is refreshing, though, for a week such as this. At a time of year when we roll out all sorts of ambitions and plans of things we wish to do, to be and to accomplish; the teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us (as a veteran in life-changing plans and projects himself), that these things are destined to be fleeting unless we find our motivation and comfort in knowing God and being known by him.

“Meaningless” is the word most commonly associated with Ecclesiastes, but perhaps a better translation of the Hebrew word “hebel” is “fleeting” or “short-lived”. Whatever it is that the Teacher had planned: gardening, a dating strategy, managing his money, or accomplishing (other, great, fill-in-the-blank awesome) projects – his conclusion in the end was that they were all hebel: fleeting, transitory, here today but gone tomorrow.

What made the difference between those endeavors being baloney or blessed, says the teacher, was whether you did them mindful of God: knowing Him, revering Him, thanking Him, and enjoying good things as gifts from his hand. And so, as I look at the year ahead and consider my options, these (slightly abridged) words from Ecclesiastes are echoing in my thoughts:

“Remember your Creator in the days of your Resolution-making, before the busy days come and the to-do lists are forgotten… The end of the matter is this, after all has been heard: Fear God and keep his commandments – for this is everything God requires of us.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13)

Whatever 2014 brings, let it not be meaningless.

Don’t do me any favors

This is my official public appeal:

Please can we do away with party favors?

This week I cleaned out 4 bags of chips, 5 transferrable tattoos, 2 pencils, 6 brightly colored erasers, 3 small containers of bubbles (none of which really work), and a handful of candies-my-kids-don’t-eat. All relics from this summers’ birthday parties, with the obligatory “party favor” bag hastily pressed into our hands on departure.

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Somewhere in my closet, among the boxes of things serious, sentimental and seriously sentimental, I also have a box of unused wedding favors from our own wedding. Over the years, whenever my husband and I have debriefed our wedding, we laugh about those favors. They cost extra time, extra money, and a whole lot of extra stress. They were the one thing that we felt our wedding day could have done without, and nothing would have been lost. In fact, ten bucks for any of our guests who can even remember what our wedding favors were. (To my bridesmaids who sat for hours bundling them, you only get gold stars if you can recall. But they are very shiny stars.)

Now wedding favors might serve a few purposes: 1) they might serve to thank people for coming (but we do that verbally, and in any case it is an honor to be invited to a wedding!) 2) in years past, they could give the couples’ new contact information (but these days, aren’t we all about gravatars and facebook anyway?) 3) They might form part of the table decorations (Ok. I’ll grant that’s one way of making things look pretty).

Perhaps a couple might WANT to do wedding favors, (and more power to them to make it the wedding of their dreams), but to those couples who feel they HAVE to do wedding favors, and to those Moms who feel they OUGHT to do party favors for kids, let me say this:

I don’t think we should have party favors, and I’m not just saying this because I am deathly afraid of Pinterest.

We go to parties to celebrate life events with people we love. It is a privilege to attend. Witnessing milestones and being counted as witnesses of babies being born, years well lived or new families started are tremendous honors.

A bag of treats is no substitute for teaching our children to look their guests in the eye and say “thank you for coming to my party”. And those bags of treats may not have been very expensive, but it is still wasteful to waste – even if it was only $25. Twenty five bucks can pay for 500 malnourished kids to be dewormed. It can provide a simple handwashing tap in a village and keep life-threatening diseases at bay.

Our twenty five bucks can do so very much good in the world, all while saving parents from another day’s whining for leftover candy.

So would you do me a favor? Please forgive me if we don’t do party favors. And know I’ll love you just the same (perhaps even more), if you forego them too.