Become your best self in the new year!
Aw, who am I kidding? You have no idea who your best self is. You’ve never met him or her.
Sure, you can imagine what it would mean to become faster, leaner, stronger, and wealthier. Your best self would no doubt wear a merit badge for niceness.
But your true best self is inconceivable to you.
At least, that’s how it’s worked for me, and I think it’s because of what it means to follow Jesus. You see, Jesus said that to follow him we have to lose our lives (John 12:25). To follow him is to die and have our lives hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). “What we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). Those verbs are: lose, die, not yet been revealed. They’re not exactly a recipe for a goal-oriented future. Jesus calls us to give up our lives, not improve upon them.
The problem is that in conceiving of our best self, we make the mistake of believing that who we are now represents a legible clue of who we might become in Christ. I suppose there are some signs, the glimpses of how God’s grace has nudged us and molded us. It’s that “Footprints” poem, except with more dragging through the sand.
Of course we think of our best self in terms of our present self. That’s the only framework we have. In imagining our best self, we’re trying to imagine ourselves outside of ourselves. It can’t be done, because our imaginator is what needs reformation. The seed can’t fathom the plant. I’m convinced that the only way to get there is to step out into mystery, one foot in front of the other into the unknown of following Jesus. We allow our present tense to be challenged by an impossible not yet self.
A couple of years ago, I took up running laps in the morning at our high school track. Because it was just one round after another, I started doing my run while listening to an audio book. Mine was an exercise in focused self-improvement, mind and body. I told myself I would get stronger and smarter. Except that I noticed something: plugging my ears trapped my thoughts inside. The possibility of my brain getting jostled by blood flow and boredom into some new track diminished greatly. There was no serendipity, no synapse shyly reaching for its unsuspecting neighbor. My head and my feet were running on loop. So I ditched the earbuds.
My miniature act of letting go might be emblematic of growing up into Christ. We’re all plugged in like that in some way or another. Our children are always right on the line of devolving into (loveable) lumps of tissue with media jacks consuming things created by others. Our imaginations risk becoming a smear on the windshield of modern entertainment. Welcome to the Matrix. The only real way forward is abandon our confidence that we can shape ourselves and entrust our lives to Christ’s molding.
In this new year, we have the possibility of opting for a step beyond ourselves into the unknown of walking with Jesus. It may involve accepting suffering. Uncertainty will sometimes dog us. But if we’re willing to sit humbly and quietly and alone, if we’re open to relinquishing something (you’ll be led in the what and the when), there will be places where by the help of God’s cruciform love, we will inch a little closer to our truest selves in Christ.