“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
So says the protagonist in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll), and after making a New Year’s resolution we may hope to say the same!
Yet it seems we’re more likely to identify with Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, who kept waking up each morning right back where he was the day before. Researchers found that just 9.2 percent of people felt they were successful in implementing their 2016 resolutions.
Clearly, there’s nothing about New Year’s Day that can magically make us more resolute. On the other hand, it holds as much potential as any other day for initiating a life-changing transformation because every day is actually ripe for new beginnings. As a hymn in the Christian Science Hymnal puts it, “This is the day the Lord hath made” (No. 342). That’s perennially true, and where God’s love is at the helm, change is always possible.
This, rather than human resolve, is the “change agent” needed to bring to light new beginnings. Through God’s love, we can come to know ourselves as Deity knows us, as the changeless sons and daughters of a God that is wholly good. This spiritual idea of man’s permanent relation to divine goodness is the Christ, which comes to human thought to uplift it from a material to a spiritual understanding of being. The power of doing so was exemplified in the kind of character turnarounds brought about by Christ Jesus. For instance, when an adulteress woman was brought to him by a crowd bent on punishing her, he paused, prayed, and turned the thoughts of the would-be punishers to their own need for reformation. Then he comforted the woman before pointing out the way for her, too, to change her life for the better (see John 8:1–11).
Pondering the many Bible stories showing how spiritual understanding transforms lives answers the question, “Can we really break free from negative habits?” with a resounding “Yes!” We can see beyond the false sense of ourselves as mortal personalities trapped in a cycle of repeating past indiscretions and instead perceive our true individuality, coexisting with God in the timeless, spiritual realm pinpointed in the Bible’s opening line. It says: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
This passage is not referring back to a past point in time. According to Christian Science it is a scriptural way of capturing the fact that God is forever creating us anew, in His perfect image and likeness. Referring to this phrase, the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, says: “The infinite has no beginning. This word beginning is employed to signify the only,—that is, the eternal verity and unity of God and man, including the universe” (p. 502).
As sons and daughters of the Divine we always reflect the ever-freshness of God as immortal Mind.
In this sense, the way to new beginnings is to know there actually are no beginnings. The purely spiritual individuality we each have in eternal unity with God never began, will never cease, and needs no improving. Yet this very reality of what we divinely are points to the fact that the human self needs to be purified, step by step, through daily demonstrating more of the God-reflecting individuality that self-centered human habits seem to obscure. Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 by Mrs. Eddy speaks of this purification as a new birth that “begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love” (p. 15).
Like many, I’ve had treasured experiences of surrendering to God’s call to embrace new beginnings, in which negative traits such as cynicism, irritability, and self-condemnation have fallen away through the recognition that if such traits aren’t qualities of God—which they never are!—then they can’t characterize God’s reflection, man. And, as a result, I’ve felt a “childlike trust and joyful adoption of good,” which has made life happier and more productive.
In wrestling with habits that have yielded more slowly than others, I’ve also seen how the human heart can be profoundly unwilling to forsake the old for the new. As sons and daughters of the Divine we always reflect the ever-freshness of God as immortal Mind, but the opposite, mistaken sense of ourselves as material rather than spiritual, a mentality that Christian Science describes as “mortal mind,” is resolutely disinclined to change, no matter how many resolutions we might commit to.
Ultimately, the way to “put off the old man,” as the spiritual process of reforming our nature is described in Colossians 3:9, is to recognize that the divine Mind is the source of our true thoughts. Even our most ingrained bad habits begin to lose their sense of being the deadweights they seem to be, when they are seen as a visible tip of the underlying belief that we are materially mental rather than purely spiritual. Through the transforming power of the Christ, revealing the latter, true nature of our mentality as Spirit’s expression, any “stuck in the mud” mortal sense of self can be “put off.” Even if there are successes and setbacks in our efforts, in light of the reality that the divine Mind is our only true mind we can steadfastly refuse to accept that the desire to act out negative habits is our own thinking. In this way, we progressively expose and prove the fallacy of mortal mind’s purported hold over us.
Clearly, such Christly transformation is far more than tinkering around the edges of change. It demands of us, and enables us, increasingly to live according to the radical, spiritual view of ourselves as motivated solely by divine Love, as Jesus proved so consistently. An early worker in the Christian Science movement, Joseph Mann, recalls Mary Baker Eddy saying: “You are not getting rid of the old man if you try to make him better. If you should succeed in making him better, he would stay with you. If you patch up the old and say it is good enough, you do not put it off, but keep it” (We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Vol. II, p. 167).
At every moment, then, we can accept this challenge to go beyond patching up a flawed human sense of ourselves by yielding to the Christly truth of man’s perfect selfhood, in which our own and others’ negative traits have no beginning, no duration, and await no future cessation. They are simply lies about how God knows us right now and forever. And so from January 1 to December 31, inclusive, we can find real and irreversible renewal in daily proofs of what we are as our creator’s eternal reflections.
As we do so, we are able to say—not only from day to day, but from moment to moment—we are “a different person,” as our timeless spiritual individuality comes ever more to light.
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