The theme “Create in Me a Clean Heart for the New Year” has been resonating with me for some time. A New Year is always something to look forward to. It brings hope that changes for the better are just around the corner. Cleaning out the old is one way to make room for the change we desire. I spent New Year’s Eve cleaning my house and organizing my closet and desk. There’s a lot more that needs attention in the organized chaos of my life, but I feel good about the change that has already been accomplished.
Cleaning up is one of the best ways to feel new. Just like a hot shower after a sweaty workout, the feeling of cleanliness penetrates to the soul. Refreshing a body, or a room, is a desired change. So what can happen if you start your cleaning effort by focusing on your soul? What about some soul cleansing for the New Year?
There’s nothing more cleansing for the soul than confession and self-examination. John describes it convincingly in 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How do you go about getting a car wash for your soul?
The first step is to accept what is so messed up about us. I avoid confession. I would rather focus on the things I can do for God rather than the ways I fail God. I have to force myself to confess. It’s messy to confess. I want to have the pretty package of a life that looks like I have it all together. In order to authentically confess, I have to open myself up to the possibility that even the reasons I do some of the good things I do originate from wrong motives. Adele Calhoun describes it this way. “We hand over the pretense, image management, manipulation, control and self-obsession. In the presence of the holy One we give up on appearing good and fixing our sin. We lay down our ability to change by the power of the self” [i]. In order to clean up my closet I had to make a big mess. It took some time before you could recognize that things were actually changed for the better. That’s true with our spiritual lives as well. We have to be willing for the Holy Spirit to reveal our true sins and even more willing to accept that there is nothing we can do about them in order for everything to be cleansed. We ask for forgiveness fully aware that there is absolutely nothing we can do on our own to make what is so wrong with us better (Romans 7:24-25).
King David is a great example for us about soul confession. You can use one of his Psalms (32 or 51) as a guide to confession. Another Biblical list is to use the Ten Commandments to walk through confessions that you would not have even considered as sins. What about using the Seven Deadly Sins as a prompt for confession: Pride, Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Anger, and Sloth? Spend some time in this first week of the New Year thinking about your soul and how you can open your heart to the cleansing it needs. Calhoun suggests thinking about the kind of person you want to be in your old age and consider what sins you might need to give up in order to be the way you desire to become. A clean heart for the New Year is good for the soul. Thomas Keating says that repentance is changing the direction you are looking for happiness. Confession is a perfect place to start making changes for the New Year.
[i] Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2005), p. 92.