Many people use the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to commit to a few new resolutions in the hope of making some changes and putting some of the past year’s experiences behind them. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just start each new year over with a clean slate?

During Victorian times, people could buy items in a store without having to pay for them immediately. The shopkeeper would write down the person’s debt on a stone slate, and the slate would be wiped clean when the bill was settled. This is where the phrase ‘starting with a clean slate’ or ‘wiping the slate clean’ originated.

Whether we are parents, youth pastors or teachers, the beginning of a new year gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past year in order to effectively start the new year on a clean slate.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. If we are not intentional about having our slates wiped clean, we will find that our slate will be filthy again before we know it.

Fortunately, the Bible provides us with some helpful challenges.

Challenge 1: Commit to forgetting our failures

“Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for which God has called me heaven-wards in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14)

It is a natural desire to want to become the best leaders that we can be. The downside of this desire is that we tend to put tremendous pressure on ourselves to live up to unfair standards.

The sad reality is that no matter how good our intentions are, we often fail to live up to these standards. We ultimately end up hurting those we serve in some way or another.

We can and should learn from our past mistakes, but we should not dwell on our past failures to the extent that it stops us moving forward into the future that God desires for us.

The start of a new year is a good time to commit, with the help of God, to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes and be free from the chains of our past failures. In the same way that Christ has forgiven our failures, we need to forgive ourselves.

Challenge 2: Commit to forgiving others

“Bear with each other and forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13)

One of the most difficult aspects of working with youth is remaining unbiased in our interactions with them. Through no fault of their own, there usually tends to be some children who are more frustrating to deal with than others.

This fault is not limited to our interactions with children. It can be tempting to show preference to certain individuals at the expense of others.

God has called us to watch over all of God’s flock equally. We should be wary of treating some people differently because of a personal grudge that we might hold against them. If we want to effectively begin our year on a clean slate, we must work hard at forgiving others, especially those whom God has called us to serve faithfully.

Challenge 3: Commit to restoring our relationships

 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:1)

When I turn my PC on, a little window pops up suggesting that I should run a scan to ensure that all of my software is running correctly. It is sometimes annoying but is often necessary to ensure that I don’t run into any unforeseen problems in the future. God issues a very similar invitation to us.

It is the invitation to check whether our inter-personal relationships are working correctly.

It is not always easy to explain why some relationships turn sour. Sometimes the reason is obvious, but often it is not.

Our ability to serve our communities is greatly diminished when we have to constantly manoeuvre around broken relationships. We will not truly be able to begin our year on a clean slate unless we take personal responsibility to restore the broken relationships in our lives. The core belief of Christianity is that Christ forgives us for our past transgressions and offers us a clean slate. The good news is that this clean slate is repeatedly offered to us.

Are we willing to collaborate with God, accept these challenges and begin the new year on a clean slate?