(This post first appeared in the Staunton News-Leader on January 11, 2009)
I’ve read that in the years of westward expansion, settlers would often spend the first night of their journey only a few miles from the city of their departure. That way all of their gear could be unpacked, used, and more fully considered. Any nonessentials could easily be disposed of, and anything missing could be gone back and purchased. A trial run, in other words.
It is in this spirit that I would like to start this new year. I am about to end my first full week of 2009, which seems to be about the right time to take a moment and consider what is thus far going right and what is going wrong. What I could use more of and what I could really do without.
My New Year’s resolution lasted exactly twelve hours and thirty-seven minutes. Not bad, really, until you consider that for eight of those hours I was sleeping. Still, I’ll call it par for the course. I’ve never had much luck with resolutions.
I nonetheless like the idea of deciding what it is you want to change about yourself. New Years is one of the few times that I take a long, hard look at me. Warts and all. It isn’t that pretty of a picture, but I guess that’s the point. There’s always something to fix. Always something we can either improve or discard.
This year, I think I need more of that self-investigation. But I’ll do it in the mindset that I am a work in progress rather than something eternally broken. I’m going to try to do without the high expectations. “Be ye kind,” the Bible says. To yourself, too.
Like most everyone else, I was glad to see 2008 go. Not that the whole year was bad, but enough of it was. A new year brings new possibilities. It’s the closest we get to a do-over, a chance to start from scratch. If Christmas is the season of hope, then New Years is the season of hopefulness. Things will be better, we promise ourselves. We won’t screw things up again.
But it’s worth remembering that life is more like a permanent marker than a piece of chalk. You can’t erase one year just because a new one comes along. You have to carry it with you, if only so you can learn from your mistakes. So I can do with the hopefulness this time of year brings. But I’ll do without the thinking that simply putting a new calendar on the wall will fix things.
If I’m packing for the trip into a new year, I can’t forget to carry along my faith. There seems to be a lot of that going around. Which is amazing, really, considering the fact that things seem so bad in so many places. But I wonder sometimes in what direction does that faith leads. For many, it’s toward a particular person or situation. When this person is in charge, we think, things will get better. Or when that government comes to its senses, things will start to turn the other way.
But faith in such things is ultimately self-defeating. It asks us to depend upon other people to make us happier. People who are just as frail and flawed as we. So I will be sure to carry my faith for the next twelve months, but I will also make sure that faith is placed in the God who created man rather than man himself.
And the last of my supplies? Love. There must be love, if for no other reason than no journey is worth beginning without it. It is the sort of love that reaches beyond self or family and extends to life itself. It is a love of the moment, of each breath, whether exhaled in frustration or peace.
That is the love I need. The love that makes hope and faith possible. The love that says no matter what the year may bring, it is God Who will bring it, and all will be well.