For some, the turn of the year can be a time of reflection and planning, the anticipation of new beginnings. For others it is painful, another opportunity to fail, a projection of the loss debris from this year into the next.
For much of my life, it was the latter and there was nothing “happy” about a new year.
Over my sixty years that has changed. Not all at once, but slowly and almost imperceptibly, in the usual ways that God works; the weather of experience and rain of persistent questions, the winds of joys and losses, the pounding that comes with choosing to do the next “right” thing. These have each in their own ways eroded into my fears and my inability to trust, and as these places of imprisonment have worn away, what has emerged has often caught me by surprise with its settled joy and willingness to stay and live inside the mystery of relationship and God’s goodness.
For me, 2015 began with a funeral. It will end with another. Both funerals are for persons precious to us, whose place at the table on the inside will be kept until one day filled again by their presence. With each year there are more of these empty places. There is an inner assurance that after death, they were met and embraced by Relentless Affection.
It is the same inner rest that allows me to hear ten fear not!’s for every invitation to freak out. We are surrounded by a world and media propaganda that tell us being afraid is the same thing as taking responsibility. That’s why it’s so tempting to allow fear make our choices.
So what will empower my choices in 2016? Will it be control? Or will it be trust?
Both control and trust are active and real responses to fear. It’s easy for us to say we choose “trust,” but in reality, we end up blending trust and control. We start by ‘trusting’ my fist, or my gun, or my color, or my country, or my party, or my border.
As Jesus says, if wisdom does not find expression in gentleness—a gentleness that can be intensely firm—it is a lie. Funerals and memorial services remind us that we don’t have control. Yes, my calendar is filling up for 2016, but I am deeply aware that a single cell in my brain could catapult me into a tomorrow not anticipated and that the only real life I have is the one I am living today.
For someone who believes that life is bigger than death, these are not tragic bookends to the year. I do grieve the losses, and I have my emotional fits of fury at the brash cruelty and reckless indifference of death, especially when so much of it is the outcome of human stupidity and ignorance. Some of it is my own. I hurt people in 2016, said stupid and ignorant things, spoke before I had the space to process, reacted from somewhere inside still not fully healed.
But I did it less in 2015 than I did in 2014.
I am encouraged by the general drift of my life, the movement toward integrity and authenticity, where my inner and outer worlds are coherent, a singular expression.
I ask for forgiveness quicker, recognize my slides into reactionary habits sooner and I am able to recognize that I am more whole at the end of this year than I was last year. I think that ‘finished work’ takes forever, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to celebrate at every point in the process.
Each year I pick a word or phrase, and then I wait for a year to see why. It is only in retrospect that my life and experiences will give clarity to what those words will mean. In 2015, the phrase was ‘Simple Trust’ and I could write a book about what that has meant this year.
For 2016, I picked both a word and a phrase. The word is ‘NO!” The phrase is “Stand/Resist.” I think I have an inkling what that means, but the year hasn’t even begun, so they sit in the place of the mystery and the unfolding. If my previous years have been any indication, this will turn out to be most about daily life choices with the people right in front of me, saying “no” to any sense of objectifying women, “standing” for what is true and good and beautiful and right, and “resisting” participation in anything that demeans and divides human beings into categories.
No lies, no secrets, no tearing down…NO! Sometimes standing in silence is the only way not to participate in human darkness. At other times, it is to state a clear ‘NO!’ and daily, incrementally, it is to resist.
May our eyes be opened to see with greater clarity how each human being matters, as does each choice we make. And may we all sense the embrace of Relentless Affection as we journey together into 2016.