Fresh starts may well be the best kind, as starts go.
Of course, there is a sense in which even the freshest of starts does not happen in a vacuum or without a little history. Human pursuits do not require (or allow) a person to simply erase previous experiences, attitudes or failures — even if that were possible. Erasing valuable insight is likely an ill-conceived notion, and most people cannot put aside cumbersome baggage that they would love to ignore and forget forever.
Thomas Edison benefited from his inventive failures by learning not to repeat his mistakes even as he salvaged nuggets of insight and success from his failures. By all counts, the inventor was a genius of discovery and innovation. But he also was a champion at failure, learned to live with it and ultimately learned to succeed after such experiences.
Abraham Lincoln endured a string of political losses but apparently developed toughness and character as he persevered in attempts at election to public service. His various experiences, in fact, helped shape him for greatness and even influenced him at critical junctures of judgment and decision-making from which he emerged as one of the greatest American presidents.
Virtually every person benefits from fresh starts in life. Usually, it takes more than one. If it were only as simple as starting anew every Jan. 1, or perhaps every morning upon awakening.... Unfortunately, it rarely is.
Some people commit terrible mistakes in their lives. They violate the law by stealing, hurting or even killing, and their sins catch up with them. Many a convict has wished for a chance at a “do-over” in life in which she or he could put aside the past and the devastating results of actions and simply start fresh. Some pay their penalty — do their time — and through great determination and usually against staggering odds, launch successful fresh starts as free men and women.
Most people who long to start over with the hope of producing a better outcome are not incarcerated. They are just normal people not content to disappoint God, themselves, their families or others. They want to reach their full potential in the most positive way. They may nobly aspire to make the world a better place or to serve the needs of others.
Even for such people, doing something right or at least something better the next time around may not be a walk in the park. Life is life, and people are people, after all. And the greatest barriers in life are often other people.
Many Christians use the term re-born to describe their new life in Christ compared to their life before they discovered the Messiah. The decision and new life — often a radical change — do not negate the old. But the intended result of a new life is described by Scripture as a transformation of the old: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The faithful learn to call upon resources beyond their own abilities. They pray, seek spiritual counsel, regularly evaluate their thoughts and behaviors, and make frequent efforts to start fresh. “New creations” are, of course, the ultimate fresh-starters.
Getting a new start is particularly exhilarating when it is more than a solo adventure attempted in a vacuum. Parents urge their children to fresh starts; sometimes, the primary impetus for an adult’s fresh start is a son or daughter, other close relation or a caring friend. A successful new starter has something to offer to other would-be fresh-starters.
New Year’s resolutions can be tools or mechanisms for fresh starts, particularly if they have greater gravity than merely getting over this bad habit or that poor behavior. The best new starts include some lifestyle tweaking to be sure, but life commitments (or re-commitments) that involve transformation are impossible to overlook. If only each of us had the power to wave a magic wand over another to launch a new creation.
For believers, self-improvement isn’t enough to qualify for transformation. In the truest sense, this is God’s business and cannot be fully realized without his involvement in a believer’s life. There is no such thing as a self-made Christian, despite the claims of some to the contrary. To start with, every person is created in the image of the Creator, and re-creation through a faith relationship brings ultimate fulfillment.
Being honest about one’s life offers God a palette for transformation — a fresh start — and a new year is obviously a good time to evaluate and commit to a closer spiritual relationship and Christian walk. The Spirit is always fresh and always available for fresh starts in Christ.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.