Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!
And then what?
That is my burning question this holiday season, erupting into flames against the backdrop of my life. How does that the hopeful expectation of Christmas fizzle and sputter so quickly at the approach of New Year’s? How does quiet faith of something, no, Someone, better and new entering time to fix our brokenness become a recitation of what went wrong this last year and all of the things necessary to make 2017 live up to unrealistic expectations?
Maybe this year will be different. Maybe this year I’ll figure it all out: a self-empowerment mantra that only leaves me more disillusioned at the end of the next year when I fail once again to control the uncontrollable. I’ve read of people focusing on a word for the new year as a call to action. But I need more than a word. I need a thousand, ten thousand.
I need the Word, a continual immersion in truth, to keep me grounded and stable.
The Christmas season still feels a bit like a mandatory census with its need to finish up normal life while still fitting in all sorts of extras, but still make it home – wherever that may be – in time for Christmas. And home is not quite the same as we left it for many of us: loss of dearest ones, a move, a disaster, or simply age and time. Yet, we still make that pilgrimage towards where we came from – even if it’s in our own minds.
For me, this year has been a different sort of homecoming and a rough one at that. I spent the last two months selling or packing all of my possessions, driving them halfway across the country, closing out my current career, and saying the hardest of goodbyes to the best of friends. On December 23rd, my sister and I started the drive from Orlando to South Dakota, hoping to make it in time for Christmas Eve celebration with the rest of the family.
I imagine the very pregnant and travel weary Mary had some of the same emotions. Please. Just get us there. Let the travel stop. I want to sleep in one place for more than a night. I want to have a home again. And like Mary, I arrived in the midst of chaos and other people’s homecomings and a house bursting at the seams. The journey completed, the displacement and change had just begun.
While I can’t commiserate fully with the wholly overwhelming experience of a newborn, every life change is fraught with disproportionate feelings. Our worst fears seem magnified and shouted on endless repeat in the back of our minds. What if I fail? I cannot control this. This isn’t enough. This is too much.
I grow weary of my ceremonies and rituals to make it all better, to make me better. In Isaiah, God grows tired of Israel’s vain offerings, as well. He tells them, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
I can’t on my own. I’m reminded of a child in one of my favorite books who finds himself as a dragon, lonely and in pain, because of his own selfishness and sin. He longs to be human again, to be made right as we all do, but can only remove so many layers of the dragon scales on his own before finally submitting to the claw of Aslan to finish the job.
Submit. Maybe that’s my word for the year, for my life. It’s something I struggle with every single day. How do I submit to the moment, to the process, to the journey, to the unknown and uncontrollable? Even Isaiah hints that a process is necessary and failures are certain by stating that we must learn to do good. And what is learning but the forging of new pathways by repeated trial and error? We must seek justice but cannot guarantee that we will find it in our lifetimes.
All of these things take time, something I suddenly have much more of at my disposal. But I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to be doing with it. My normal responses of action and busyness are stilled in the face of recreating a life in a place I left behind fifteen years ago.
So, I sit and work to submit. I lean into such words as “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (Isaiah 1:18-19) He, who is faithful, has done it, is doing it, will do it. He has washed me clean and has made a way – how much more will he lead me in it.
Faith and hope in the quiet of winter. May I learn to linger in these long twilights under cold skies. This new year I make no resolutions, only rest. For, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5)
And that is enough.1