By Steven Norris

On Thursday of last week, I joined with countless others who stood with bated breath as we watched the clock strike midnight. My wife and I danced into the new year, accompanied by Frank Sinatra’s crooning, “Start spreading the news…” A new year can bring with it new possibilities, a new outlook, and a renewed sense of hope.

However, there is nothing magical about a New Year. Nothing in the flip of a calendar’s page guarantees an improvement over our present condition. A pandemic continues to ravage the lives of friends and families in our community — more today than at any point of 2020. Deep division and suspicion lingers between neighbors over the results of this week’s election. Deep racial wounds fester for lack of genuine healing. Yes, we have entered a new year, but any substantive sense of newness or change will depend entirely on how we choose to act (or not).

We are not victims of our circumstances. Though we face difficulties, we have a choice as to how we will respond. We possess divine, God-given agency over our own lives.

The great spiritual teacher, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Over the years, this quote has been truncated, altered, misattributed, and co-opted for numerous marketing campaigns. Such usage, however, does not lessen its truth. The only person I can genuinely change is myself. The only person I have any legitimate control over is me.

If I want the world to be a kinder place in 2021, then I must commit to be more kind in my daily interactions. That commitment may require that I hold my tongue more frequently, offer forgiveness more freely, and forge new friendships across ideological lines.

If I want to see more generosity and less greed in 2021, then I must look for opportunities to be more generous with the resources that God has put at my disposal.

If I want to see racial healing in my community in 2021, then I have no choice but to build bridges instead of fences and to use my voice to advocate for justice and equity.

If I want to be more like Christ, then I would do well to ground myself in the gospel texts, specifically the Sermon on the Mount, and seek to live as Jesus taught. I had better learn to love, not just with words, but with actions and truth. I have no choice than to present my hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mind as instruments to Christ, allowing God’s Spirit to flow freely through me.

As we enter into a new year, friends, let us not forget that change is possible, but it isn’t inevitable. It’s up to us to make this new year better than the one we are leaving behind.