It’s beginning to look a lot like New Year’s everywhere we go, from the “Auld Lang Syne” music loop at the local coffee shop to the discounted post-Christmas merchandise at Kohl’s. We find ourselves preparing for New Year’s Eve dinners and parties, going to parades and city square celebrations, and looking forward to football games and finger food.
More than anything, however, we get a sense that the past year has gone by very quickly. We are reminded again that time flies, and that the upcoming year will go by quickly as well. So we make resolutions because we want to do good and purposeful things during the new year. In other words, the New Year’s holiday causes us to “hit pause” in order to gain perspective on what we are doing with our lives.
In the midst of all this, many of us are trying to discern how to teach our children about why New Year’s matters. Let’s be honest, it feels easier to share the meaning of Christmas than it does New Year’s. If Christmas teaches the depths of God’s love and encourages our children to pass along that love to others through generosity and sacrificial giving, what does New Year’s Day teach? Fortunately, it provides the opportunity to expand upon the lessons Christmas teaches as we:
1. Look back on the past year in light of God’s good gifts.
The Christmas story teaches us to be grateful that God would give us his Son some two millennia ago; New Year’s provides an opportunity for gratitude toward God’s goodness over the past year. Even, and especially, if the past year has been full of disappointment, failure, and loss, the beginning of a new year is an irreplaceable opportunity to acknowledge the goodness in our lives.
How do we share this with our children? A natural gathering place for many families is the dinner table. For others, it might be bedtime. Either way, we can ask our children to recount the “good” things that have happened. One by one, we can thank God for those good things and even make a record of them for memory’s sake. Similarly, we can ask our children to articulate the things that were not-so-good, and attempt to put them into perspective.
2. Look forward to the next year by resolving to be a conduit of God’s love.
The Christmas story teaches us the penetrating and persistent nature of God’s sacrificial love. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it in "The Jesus Storybook Bible," Jesus’ love is a never-stopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always and forever love. His sacrificial love makes clear to our children that they don’t have to be “good” kids or winners for God to love them. God loves them no matter who they are.
The New Year’s tradition of making “resolutions” provides the perfect opportunity to follow up on this teaching about God’s generous and sacrificial love. A new year naturally causes us to think about what we want to do and who we want to become in the upcoming year. And the Bible teaches that the single most important thing a person can do is to love God and let our own lives be a conduit of his love for other people (Mark 12:30-31).
How do we apply this to our children’s little lives? We can encourage them to make goals for the upcoming year that focus on loving other people more than perfecting themselves. Just as Mom and Dad can focus more on helping the homeless than they do on perfecting their abs at the gym, so the kids can focus more on being kind to the socially-awkward child in their class than on becoming a better gamer or rising higher in the popularity ranks at school.
3. Look upward to the God who gives meaning and purpose to the new year.
The Christmas story teaches us that the God who came to visit us in a manger is also the God who created us and gives our lives meaning and purpose. The New Year’s holiday can remind our children that the Bible’s story not only begins with God creating the world, but continues with him sending his Son Jesus to save us from our sins and make us more like himself, and, finally, concludes with Jesus returning to institute a world-wide reign of love, peace, and justice.
How do we apply this story for our children? We instill in them that it is God who makes their New Year’s resolutions especially meaningful. When they resolve to befriend the socially-awkward child rather than obsessing on being popular, they are partnering with Jesus in his” never-stopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” When they determine to give some of their hard-earned money to a charity that benefits financially disadvantaged persons, they are doing so in expectation of a day when Jesus will return and abolish poverty altogether.
In other words, our children need more than mere resolutions. As helpful as resolutions can be, what children need even more is a story that makes sense of the resolutions and gives meaning and purpose to their lives. Well, the Bible’s story is the greatest story of all and the New Year’s holiday provides an opportune moment to show our children how their lives fit into that magnificent story.
Bruce and Lauren Ashford are the parents of three small children and are members of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.