St Francis is said to have frequently announced, “Let us begin, for up until now, we’ve done nothing.” His words are not supposed to dishearten—“Boy, you’ve been ineffective so far!” Rather, they are supposed to be the good news of a fresh start and the reassurance that we’re not condemned to keep repeating the past.
Writer Anne Lamott gives a 21st-century twist to Francis’ words. She starts her annual New Year greetings to her readers by assuring them they we do not need to put ourselves on a diet in order to be loveable/ conscientious/ good citizens for the coming year. Her hard-won philosophy is, “If you aren’t comfortable with yourself as X, you won’t be more comfortable with yourself as less-X” (or more-X, depending on her subject).
But we do get a fresh start.
We love fresh starts this time of year, resolving to give up poor habits and embrace new goals to accomplish. And that’s cool. It’s good to know that, as rough and grungy as the past has been, this is a clean slate, a new day, a fresh beginning.
Like a bunch of high schoolers, we have to know that our grade next quarter doesn’t depend on making and keeping resolutions.
Thank God. In fact, “Up until now we’ve done nothing.”
I like to think of life in terms of story, that whole English major thing—plot development, character development, themes, subplots. That being so, the beginning of the year marks a new chapter, a time to introduce a change in direction without the need for some subtle transition statement. “Instead of this, our heroine moves on to--.” I get to just start living what comes next in my story. “Let us begin; for up until now . . . .”
Somehow, I think there’s a lot of mercy associated with fresh starts. In recent years, what I’ve considered at the New Year has been less resolution—less of a “not enough/too much” mindset—and more “Let us begin, for up until now we’ve done nothing.” Knowing that this wisdom comes from St Francis, I don’t have a sense of feeling inadequate or not-up-to-the-task or failing-to-make-the-grade. Instead, I hear both Francis and Clare reminding me that “everything is gift.”
Which allows me to begin the next chapter with gratitude.
Written by Eileen Parfrey