Is there a scriptural basis for New Year's resolutions and turning over a new leaf?
Rabbi Glenn Jacob, Temple Am Echad, Lynbrook:
In our Jewish tradition, yes, there is a basis for turning over a new leaf at the Jewish New Year - Rosh Hashanah. But, no, not for the secular New Year. There's always a reason to turn from destructive ways to a more positive path. It is not ritual but is written in the liturgy itself. We have requirements during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of seeking out those whom we have wronged and making good on the damage we've done and the mistakes we've made.
A traditional secular New Year's resolution can be something as simple as losing weight. The Jewish practice is taking responsibility for the past before taking on the challenges of the future. That is a different emphasis. One, the Jewish practice requires more focus. Two, it requires individuals to participate in the community, regardless of their choices. Three, it raises what can be a most selfish act to be more selfless. It is easier to fail at either type of resolution (secular or Jewish) if you do it by yourself without family or community support.
Pastor Scott Kraniak, Centereach Bible Church, Centereach:
Yes and no. If you're going to do it between you and yourself, that's fine. There's nothing in the Bible that says we can't. Yet, if you add God into the picture, the Scriptures give a warning (James 4: 13-16 and James 5:12). We are warned by God to think twice before we make a promise or swear to anything. It is clear that God knows us better than we know ourselves, as he knows that we humans are, by nature, promise breakers. He says that if you make a promise in his name, he will hold you to it.
When you're praying to the heaven, you're making a promise. It is like when you get married, the vows "till death do us part." By bringing God into the ceremony, you introduce that higher power that holds us accountable. With the promise comes accountability.
Nathan Erb, youth pastor, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection:
No, not specifically New Year's resolutions, but there are passages that talk about rebirth and renewal. There's a passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22) that talks about there being a time for everything. There are passages that talk about helping you keep things you've resolved to do (Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through He who strengthens me.")
You do often need God's help to keep you focused. Say you want to resolve to lose weight. As you read God's word, he reveals to you that he loves you just as you are, and with that love of self you're able to pray and ask for assistance to be in better health.
I think people rely on themselves too much. It is not a bad thing to rely on yourself, but you need to have God as a constant in your life (Isaiah 41:10: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
I think you shouldn't resolve to do something unless you're determined to do it. If you really want to make change in life, that's where prayer comes in. It doesn't have to happen with the New Year, but it can.
Pastor Jeff Laustsen, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Rockville Centre:
Absolutely, maybe not about resolutions, but about rebirth and renewal. A lot of the Scriptures talk about new life and new creation, not necessarily about these changes at the New Year. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:24, Paul talks about a new creation and one's rebirth. Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, talks about not just New Year's Day but every day living a new life. In fact, in our order of confession and forgiveness, we are to go forward renewed and to live a new life. We should look at this as the way we live our lives and the way we conduct our relationship with God and with each other each day. This renewal is much deeper than those annual New Year's resolutions.
With prayer, you can strengthen those resolutions. God created us to be in a community. It is in that living together where we gain our strength and support. You can't do it on your own. The best way to lose weight is to have someone with you to exercise and keep you on track. It is the same with our faith. I think the basic problem with New Year's resolutions is the "I" part, that I'm going to do it on my own. There is great worth to the making of resolutions - spiritual, physical or otherwise. One of God's greatest gifts is the gift of others. We fail when we fail to reach out.