I’ll be the one to say it: I hate the New Year. I think it is the absolute worst time of the year. It’s not that I’m against having a good time, being with family and friends, or anything like that. I love all the traditions that come with New Years like watching the ball drop and wearing silly hats. It’s really what this time of year does to people that I cannot stand. While it’s meant for celebration, rejoicing, and hopeful anticipation, the reality of the situation is much grimmer: loneliness, anxiety, and unhappiness seem to plague the New Year.
It’s around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that the pressure is on to be the best self you can be. Looking back on the year, the narrative we’re fed is that we should be able to show how much we’ve grown, how much we’ve done, all the successes we’ve had, how improved we are. The theme song for the year and the decade even should be “bigger, better, faster, more.” We feel the need to prove we were kind enough, happy enough, influential enough, charitable enough, woke enough. In our heads, we naturally believe, as David Zahl points out, that “Were we to reach some benchmark in our minds, then value, vindication, and love would be ours-- that if we got enough, we would be enough” (Zahl, Seculosity, xiv).
Looking back on the year, the narrative we’re fed is that we should be able to show how much we’ve grown, how much we’ve done, all the successes we’ve had, how improved we are.
This is at least partly why among broader Christian circles, Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl Wash Your Face, has experienced such overwhelming success in sales and reach. As a self-help book with a vaguely Christian veneer, it promises to solve the anxiety and unhappiness that are felt by millions of Christians across the nation with quick and easy-to-do lists, a set of steps towards a happier and more confident you. However, after reading through what she identifies as the “lies” we tell ourselves, and how to fix them, I’m not convinced it actually ends the cycle of anxiety. In fact, I would be so bold as to say Hollis’ message helps perpetuate the cycle we all feel of never being enough.
This is not to say that the book is entirely devoid of useful advice, but first and foremost in Girl Wash Your Face is the idea that “You, and only you are ultimately responsible for who you become.” “You have control of your own life,” and that your life is a “creation of your own making.” “This is your life. You are meant to be the hero of your own story.”
In theological terms, this message ultimately implies you are your own god and the creator of your own reality. As the master of your own fate and the captain of your soul, you bear all the reward and also all the responsibility even for the things that aren’t in your control. If you’re not good enough, it’s your fault. If your marriage is failing, it’s your fault. If you’re having a hard time being a parent, it’s your fault. If you’re not content with your body, it’s your fault. The only “gospel” afforded throughout the book is, in fact, no gospel at all, but the terrifying voice of the law: “Do more. Be better. Stop that. Hustle harder. Be smarter. Slay it, Queen.” If you do all these, then you’ll reach enoughness.
The problem with pouring this kind of religious fervor into the everyday aspects of our lives to find the ever-elusive enoughness is that you never reach it. Even if you do accomplish your New Year’s resolutions or goals, our theme song under the law is still, “Bigger, better, faster, more,” and we remain tortured by the fantasy self we are failing to become.
Being the hero of your story is a job description only Christ can fill.
I think what we really need for this New Year is a new word apart from the law. We need something, not from within, but from without. We need to let God be God and we his creatures. When this happens, when our theology is rightly about the justifying God and the sinning man, we view the world and all the ordinary aspects of our life like parenting, food, politics, and career in a completely new light. Instead of these things being something I have to use to justify myself so that I feel like I am enough, these things become a gift from God, my heavenly Father, who gives them to me for my enjoyment and because he loves me. He provides everything I need so I don’t have to worry about any earthly care. So that I am enough, God also sends me his Son, Jesus Christ, to be my justifier, my redeemer, and my enoughness. Christ has claimed me as his own by his death and resurrection. Now I am a son of the most-high and heir to all the riches and benefits of the firstborn son of heaven. And so that I might continue to receive grace upon grace, Christ has sent his Spirit to be in the word and the sacraments in order to forgive me all my sins so that all my failures are continually covered by the blood of Jesus.
Being the hero of your story is a job description only Christ can fill. Making you a new person is a work only Christ can accomplish. And praise God that he has done so through your baptism. Your life, your worth, your enoughness is not defined by how well you perform, how much you do, or don’t do. Christ defines your worth, and in Christ, you are more than enough for the year, the decade, and your whole life.