If you’re like many Americans, the time between Thanksgiving and today has been full of feasting that’s even more indulgent than the everyday feasting that’s pretty common on our shores. I’m not knocking that feasting, mind you. I love to feast.
But if you’re like many Americans, that feasting gets to be a bit much. And so today is the day you start with a ‘clean slate’ and go on Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers or The Daniel Plan or go gluten-free, Paleo, low-carb, no-carb, vegan, raw or just less.
[One New Year’s Day, my husband and I were out for a walk on a peaceful forested path when we passed a woman jogging determinedly along, looking exhausted and in pain. “Looks like a resolution to me,” Tim said dryly, like we’ll see how long that lasts.]
I happen to like resolutions, and the appealing fiction that who we are in 2012 can be fundamentally different from who we will be in 2013 if only we can apply enough willpower. But I’ve also been resolving to stop biting my nails since, oh, 1989, and, while I’ve had a few good long stretches, all it takes is a tense plotline (in real life or in books or movies) and I’m all nibbly-nibbly again.
From the time I was a teenager and into my early twenties, I would resolve each year to lose fat and build muscle and eat healthier and eat less and look better and stop obsessing about food and stop overeating crappy energy bars and eat more fresh fruit and never eat sugar again and exercise at least once, maybe twice, every day. Moreover, I really thought that if I could ‘just’ get my body to behave, everything else in my life would come together.
Not incidentally, this was exactly the message of many, many diet plans and exercise programs and products and books and videos aimed to tell me that what they were offering, PLUS MY EFFORT, would help me to be ‘perfect,’ or at least, to have a perfect body, which in the media, is basically the same thing.
We humans, we love the idea that we can be transformed, if only we put in enough effort, buy the right product, follow the right guru. Even those of us who don’t try for transformation secretly wish it but are afraid to try for fear of failure. We sit in awe before rags-to-riches stories, of stories of injured veterans turned master yogis, of awkward youths turned graceful dancers, of people who have gone from sick and obese to slim and healthy.
These stories are always appealing, but the curious thing about any resolution—any goal—is that you might achieve it only to find that it wasn’t the thing that mattered so much anyway: you may have gained the Perfect Body and lost most of your friends, or made X amount of money or achieved a certain promotion but alienated your family, or so on. There is a reason that people with severe eating disorders are desperate to find ‘pro-ana’ and ‘pro-mia’ communities online and in treatment centers: in achieving the goal of extreme thinness/intake control, they become very alone. You don’t have to look very far to find stories in which radical transformation does happen, and it’s not a happy ending.
But most of the time, for most of us, the radical transformation never happens, not in this life anyway. Christians live in hope not just of our own transformation, but that of all this world, with its suffering and starvation and famine and type II diabetes and heart disease and soil depletion and cruelty to animals and greed and so on. We live in hope that all that will be transformed, and we live in hope that our feebly little efforts help move that transformation forward.
When that is all complete, there will be feasting, feasting that doesn’t end with the beginning of a New Year, because time—with its ravages and wrinkles and disappointments and deaths—time will be no more.
That hope is why I love to feast, why I think people should feast. But the gap between that hope of the Supper of the Lamb and where we are right now is why, I think, we also fast, why we choose not to indulge all the appetites that we might like to indulge; why, sometimes, we choose to put good things off until a little later, choose not to eat something that has come from the suffering of another, choose to share what we have.
It’s true that sometimes resolutions can bring us closer to other people. But it’s just as true that they can isolate us from what really matters.
It’s true that not every day can be a feast. But neither can every day be a fast.
It’s true that transformation is possible. But it’s also true that the lasting kind is the almost imperceptibly slow kind.
Wishing you a Happy New Year as you journey on in your feasting and fasting and slow slow joyful transformation…