From this life to the next
Will you be making a New Year’s resolution this year? According to researchers at the University of Sydney, half of all Australians will. We’re a pretty predictable bunch when it comes to resolutions.
No doubt this year our resolutions will include avoiding the 18th series of Masterchef, deciding to ignore cryptic, attention-seeking Facebook updates from friends who never supply the second sentence (“Couldn’t have imagined a worse day ever :-(“), spending less time working, and more time with the family (or vice versa).
Or maybe making no more resolutions.
But assuming you haven’t already adopted the final item on that list, perhaps 2013 is the year to get a little more ambitious with your resolutions.
I’ve come across no resolutions more ambitious than those of Jonathan Edwards. Nearly 300 years ago, at just 19 years of age, Edwards made not one or two but a staggering 70 resolutions. These weren’t resolutions for the next 12 months - these were resolutions for the remaining years he’d be on this Earth.
Like many of us, he made some resolutions around healthy living, for example:
Resolution #40: Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.
But his resolutions were far broader and covered seven areas, ranging from his life mission and time management, to dealing with suffering and his spiritual life. How did he even remember them all? In the preface to his resolutions he resolved to read over them all once a week.
Here are some examples of what he resolved to do:
Resolution #14: Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
Resolution #15: Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
Resolution #69: Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
I like it - he’s taken the time to consider and then write down the kind of life that he wants to live.
But what is most striking about his resolutions is their razor-sharp focus. At only 19, he had formed the concrete realisation that many never actually face up to - that his life on this earth will one day end.
Resolution #7: Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life
Resolution #17: Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
Resolution #52: I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
Facing up to reality as a teenager, he was able to live the rest of his life backwards - living today in such a way so as to avoid the regrets so many experience as the night closes in.
Someone with a lot of experience at the back-end of life is Bonnie Ware. She worked in palliative care, and wrote about the five most common regrets people express on their deathbed:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
We can learn from these experiences - from resolving to get home before the kids go to bed, to picking up the phone keep in touch with an old school friend. There’s no reason why the regrets of others need to be repeated by us.
But Edwards inspires us to be even more ambitious with our resolutions. His life was shaped not only by the reality that it will end, but also by the knowledge that this life is in many ways preparation for what Edwards called ‘the future world’.
Resolution #50: Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.
Edwards’ perspective was shaped by the wisdom of Jesus, who said in Matthew 16:
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Life is approached very differently in the light of eternity. Eternity clarifies what’s important, and provides focus for what’s worth striving for, and what’s simply a short-term distraction.
Eternity reveals that the greatest gains and achievements in 70-odd years are ultimately pointless, if they come at the cost of your soul.
As you make your resolutions for 2013, by all means get healthy, spend less time at work and avoid repetitive reality television. But also take a moment in the scheme of eternity to consider how to prepare your soul for the life to come.
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