We don’t need to wait — indeed, we shouldn’t wait — until a new year to make needed changes in our lives.
Before we moved to New York, Susan and I lived in Washington, D.C. That’s actually where our oldest child, Fiona, who is six and a half, was born, though her younger brothers — Colin, who turns three next month, and Heath, who is 15 months — were born here in New York, in Brooklyn.
Susan was then, as she is now, a high-school teacher. She worked in Prince George’s County, Maryland, to the east of D.C. On the other hand, I worked a block from the White House in governmental and urban affairs. I worked for a small political consulting firm with a few clients, including The United States Conference of Mayors, where we worked on-site.
Among our other clients were two trade associations in the fire industry — the companies that produce firefighting equipment such as fire trucks (that’s how I learned that the proper term for a fire truck is “apparatus”), SCBA (short for “self-contained breathing apparatus”), and turnout gear. Together they had a joint governmental affairs committee, or GAC, that consisted of representatives from a number of companies. We worked with this GAC to educate members of Congress on the importance of a major grants program through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that provided around half a billion dollars per year to local fire departments to purchase needed firefighting equipment.
This GAC had a Canadian arm: representatives of companies in Canada who were working to get their federal government, which had no similar program, to start one. To help them better understand how the U.S. program worked, we invited the Canadian GAC to Washington to meet with the people who ran the DHS program.
On the first day1 of their visit, we had a very nice, very filling lunch at a restaurant2 in downtown Washington. Immediately after lunch we went to a DHS office near Mount Vernon Square3 in central D.C. There we were ushered into a windowless conference room. Our Canadian guests-of-honor (or should that be “honour” since they were Canadian?) were seated at the table in the middle of the room while the rest of us were given chairs on the edge of the room along the wall. The lights were dimmed and we were given a PowerPoint presentation about the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program.
The stage was set. A filling lunch. A dim, windowless conference room. A PowerPoint presentation, which can often be, um, not that interesting — but wait until you’ve seen one at the Department of Homeland Security. And a meeting at about two o’clock in the afternoon, which in my opinion is just about the worst time to have a meeting. I tried and I struggled, but I could not help it: I fell asleep in the middle of this meeting at the Department of Homeland Security.
This was not the first time I’d struggled to stay awake in the middle of an afternoon meeting, or in the middle of an afternoon for that matter. (As I mentioned, meetings at two and three o’clock in the afternoon are the worst.) And in those moments I often turned to two friends for help. Those two friends’ names were Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper. Eventually, this turned into a habit, and I often found myself even on afternoons without meetings or even feeling tired going to the corner drugstore to buy a bottle.
A few years ago, I decided that I needed to do something about it. So I set a new year’s resolution that I wouldn’t drink soda for all of 2013. Except for the one time a nurse told me to drink some Coke while I was donating blood4 — and hey, doctor’s orders, you know — I was successful. As 2014 rolled in, I celebrated my success by — what else? — having a soda.
I share this experience because I believe it is the one time I have been really successful with a new year’s resolution. Yes, the one time. I have had success with other goals, including those I have started with a new year. But for the most part I have found that “new year’s resolutions”, in the usual sense, don’t work for me.
Part of my problem is I’m a perfectionist. It’s a trait that serves me well in many ways. But it can also make resolutions incredibly frustrating. I start off hard and burn out fast. And when I mess up on my resolution — typically by the second day of January — the year is ruined.
In the Book of Mormon, we can read the words preached to the poor among the Zoramites by Alma the Younger and his mission companion, Amulek. I think that some of Amulek’s words were intended for people just like me:
Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. (Alma 34:31–32)
Amulek doesn’t tell the Zoramite poor to wait until a change of year or a change of season, or even for another week, day, or moment. He tells them not to harden their hearts “any longer” and that “now is the time and the day of your salvation.” In return, he promises that “immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.”
The same promise applies to each of us. Our efforts to become better people and to follow the example of Jesus Christ more closely — or, in other words, to repent — should be continual. Repentance, in its truest sense, is not a one-time action but an ongoing process of refinement. We can make an effort to improve the moment we realize there is an improvement to make. We don’t need to wait — indeed, we shouldn’t wait — until a new year to make needed changes in our lives. As Amulek taught, the moment we begin to improve or repent or overcome a bad habit or establish a new good habit, immediately the plan of salvation, made operable through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, will become effective in our lives and individual efforts.
On New Year’s Eve, as the ball drops and couples kiss and people drink their champagne (or sparkling apple cider, as we Mormons are likely to do), many people will sing:
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
However, for us as Latter-day Saints and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, I would propose another song — a hymn — for us to keep in mind and in our hearts, and perhaps to sing,5 as we ring in the coming new year. This hymn has come to mean a lot to me over the last few years:
Come, let us anew our journey pursue,
Roll round with the year,
And never stand still till the Master appear.
His adorable will let us gladly fulfill,
And our talents improve
By the patience of hope and the labor of love. (Hymns , #217)
In this verse and the others, you can clearly see that this is a Millennial hymn. For example, “never stand still till the Master appear” refers to the Second Coming. But I believe it can apply to our lives right now. As we “gladly fulfill” “His adorable6 will” and improve our talents — as we strive to become more like Jesus Christ in thought, word, and action — the Master will appear, in our own countenances.7 As Amulek taught, “immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto” us.
As we go forward into the new year and as we resolve to do better, in whatever form that resolution may take, I testify that we each have the ability to improve and to become more like our Savior. I testify of the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that our efforts to improve will be enhanced and strengthened as we seek to apply the Atonement in our lives. And I testify that as we take even a small step forward, day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute, our Father in Heaven’s great plan of redemption will immediately bless our lives. In 2017 and always, the invitation to you and me is open and clarion: let us “come forth and harden not [our] hearts any longer” and follow our Savior “by the patience of hope and the labor of love.”
“Come, Let Us Anew”
Performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square, Music and the Spoken Word, 27 December 2015
This text is adapted from a talk Dustin gave in the sacrament meeting of the Astoria Ward, Woodside New York Stake, on 18 December 2016.
- Tuesday, 16 December 2008 ↩
- Art and Soul, The Liaison Capitol Hill, 415 New Jersey Avenue NW ↩
- 800 K Street NW ↩
- This was at a blood drive, 11 July 2013, that had been organized by the full-time missionaries in the Bushwick 1st Branch. ↩
- Inspired by my recommendation in this talk, our ward chorister selected this hymn as the closing hymn in sacrament meeting on 1 January 2017, which fell on a Sunday. ↩
- Here “adorable” denotes the original Latin adōrāre, meaning to pray or worship (like adorer in modern French), signifying that God’s will is worthy of respect, reverence, and worship. ↩
- See Alma 5:14 (14–19) ↩