Editor's note: this piece was coauthored by Hagelin's daughter, Kristin Carey.
So you made a New Year’s resolution just a week ago and you’ve already broken it. Welcome to the club.
In our culture we place a lot of value on willpower. We love stories of perseverance and physical and mental fortitude. We believe that personal resolve leads to success. We admire and strive after independence and self-improvement.
Of course, these truly are admirable qualities. But what happens when we fail to meet our goals, when we let ourselves and others down? What happens when we give in, give up and break under pressure? How do we view ourselves when we wake up a week into the New Year and realize that we simply forgot about the promises we made so sincerely on the 31st?
After swearing to be patient, you let anger take hold. After vowing to be disciplined, you hit the snooze button. You opt for the ice cream instead of the run and the New Year starts looking pretty similar to the last.
You start feeling guilty and become discouraged, maybe even hopeless. Why keep hoping and trying to change when you fall back into your former patterns without even thinking?
The reality is that no matter how firm our resolve, none of us are above failure.
Even the disciple Peter, who left everything he knew at a moment’s notice to follow Jesus, who promised with zeal to stick with him through thick and thin—even if it meant his own death—failed to keep his promise. As Jesus was beaten and slapped and mocked by the angry crowds that would send him to the cross, Peter denied that he had ever known him. And when he realized what he had done, he wept bitterly, overcome with grief and guilt.
This weakness—this inability to follow through with perfection—is common to all humans, regardless of gender, race, national origin, or religion. In a letter to the Roman church, Paul describes this weakness, which he also experienced personally, as the power of sin.
“I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” (Romans 7:18-24, MSG).
The Hope: Grace & Higher Power
Both Peter and Paul came to a point where they felt the reality of their own weakness, where they felt their spirits break. That is never an easy place to be. But it’s a necessary place to come to because until you recognize the depth of your own weakness, you will never understand or acknowledge your need. And when we acknowledge our need for God’s power—not our own willpower—to work in our lives, then God comes through.
We can imagine that the disciples had never felt so broken spirited as they did in the days following Jesus’ crucifixion. As they hid away in fear from the Jewish leaders, they must have felt the full weight of their helplessness—totally lost, totally afraid and without hope. In need of nothing short of a miracle.
Then suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them. They were witness to the power of the almighty God, the only power that could raise and redeem lives given up for lost.
Certainly they were afraid. Perhaps Peter most of all, who had denied his dying Lord, now risen. Would Jesus be angry with him for his failure, his treason? Would he rebuke him? Punish him the way he knew he deeply deserved?
The room was silent until Jesus spoke, “Peace be with you.” Peace. Divine forgiveness and mercy were wrapped up in that word. And hope. Blessed hope. To know your weakness, to feel forgiveness, and to believe in the power of God is to hope. Hope for a changed life, hope for a new life, hope for freedom from the cycle of failure.
Before Jesus left them, he told his followers that he would give them a final gift—the power of God, in the form of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit would speak peace, forgiveness, acceptance, and mercy into their lives rather than judgment. And more than that—it would make them strong where they were once weak, helping them press on toward the perfection that God promises.
Paul continued his letter to the Roman church, saying:
“Thank God! The answer is in Christ Jesus our Lord... So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin... The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.” (Romans 7:25-8:2 & 11, NLT).