New Leaves Are a Con Job

I do not believe in turning over a new leaf.

Let’s clarify that statement with a slightly embarrassing story. A few days before junior high began, I faced the mirror in my bathroom, determined to make the coming year different. I would be more social, more popular. I would connect, I would impress people, I would take my social anxiety and chuck it out of the window.

I would do all of this by having really cool bangs!

I have fine hair, which as a child of the eighties, put me at a major disadvantage. My hair stubbornly refuses to be bigger than it is. Ratting it with AquaNet and clenched teeth will produce volume for fifteen minutes; then it melts like snow. I could not live the Farah Fawcett dream.

In front of my mirror, I curled my bangs, sprayed them copiously with product, and decided to try coaxing them higher with my fingers.When I touched the wet hair, the wisps stuck together, making a kind of wire lattice.

I hadn’t intended that effect, but this was a day of experimentation. I looked at the result in the mirror. The bangs definitely called for attention. They weren’t big, but the lattice effect was certainly bold. I decided this hairstyle would change everything.

And that’s how I ended up attending junior high with what looked like  concertina wire on my forehead. Let’s just say it did not remove my social anxiety.

Junior high was simply one example of me learning that fervent wishes to start fresh do not work. No matter what circumstances I showed up in, my old self shadowed me. I might go to college, or my first real job, or begin a spiritual discipline—but I was still awkward, unsure of myself, and alienated from everyone and myself. New leaves or no, I was still me.

“I wish I could be a different person,” I wailed to my husband one day, perhaps a year after we’d gotten married. Marriage (and later motherhood) was the latest in a series of new leaves that did not change my insides. Being a wife did not magically make me at ease with myself. Neither did (sorry, kids) having children.

All this to say that I am suspicious of new leaves. They are a sales pitch from a flinty-eyed con man. Whether it’s a birthday, a holiday, or any kind of milestone, I face new beginnings with my arms crossed over my chest, daring them to be different than today. There is no magical moment, no firm resolution that will suddenly make reality change.

(I’m super-fun at a New Years’ Eve party.)

But here’s the crazy thing: I am not a cynic. Not at all. In fact, even if I don’t believe in clean breaks or new leaves, I believe that resurrection is around every freaking corner.

I once thought that life change happened in one fell swoop, like turning a journal open to an empty page. Being blank, I could fill it in however I desired. I just had to figure out how

Except wanting to be a different person and becoming one are two different things.

The problem was it was ME I wanted to turn over, not pages. I wanted to tip myself into a compost heap and hope that after a lengthy decomposition, a prize-winning pumpkin would emerge.

It was only when I healed my self-loathing that actual change occurred—slowly, with tiny steps and no blank pages in sight. Resurrection came in therapy and daily practices. It happened when I made art and accepted it as beautifully imperfect. It happened when I said no to things that shamed me. Resurrection snuck in when I was brave enough to wear a bold necklace and when I extended grace to my kids. It happened by setting small daily goals, and by sitting in silence before God instead of working harder.

In other words, I do not try to become someone new—I try to deepen my hold on the person God created me to be. Self-loathing and willpower get me nowhere. Self-acceptance and seeking God’s power change my life.

In the end, I do not need to turn over a new leaf because change can happen even when I’m not willing it. Change comes not from firm resolutions or dreaming of a whole new me—but by trusting the One who created me from dust.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Heather Caliri
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