The passing of the years — Old Year / New Year, depending on your cultural background and perhaps your outlook — occasioned my thinking about how badly we humans long for and look for new beginnings. I don’t think it’s pessimistic or untrue: most of us feel the need for some new start fairly often… for many different reasons.
More holidays than not, it seems, carry some aspect of this theme, the hope for a fresh start. One could even say that we’ve created as much in three of our four seasons — the short days of winter with New Year, the spring with the natural world coming back to life after the dormancy of the cold season, and the fall with our “normal routines” kicking back in after the hiatus of summer. Perhaps, summer vacations are just an excuse to let the start of school and back to work become one more opportunity for starting over!
Of course, this should be good news for Christianity, since grace is above all else God’s invitation and strategy for our getting second chances and therein new beginnings. These days, the church doesn’t seem to be all that good at communicating this message so that people can hear what is promised. I wonder why?
Still I have confidence in the promise as the Bible shares it. At our New Year’s Watch Night service last night, we leaned on the the passage that exhorts:
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made (knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection) my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
What fresh starts do you need right now? It’s ok, really! I suspect if we are very honest with, at least, ourselves, we all need a bunch of new beginnings all the time…
Yesterday I got a package from my father’s wife. You might remember he passed away in November. And Susan was going through his stuff, and thought I might like some of what she found in his files. Mostly it was photos he had kept. Of visits back to the midwest when my kids were young — it was an annual, summer pilgrimage to see grandparents in St. Louis and Chicago.
They are stunning to look at. My kids, now 31 and 28, are in these images still young children. In the earliest photos, Ben is still a bit shorter than his mom (at 5’1”) and in the next set, Simon has almost reached that height. I’m guessing they were about 7 and 10 in the early photos, and 10 and 13 in the latter ones. (In all of them, I’m thin and dark-haired, and really did look sort of like Jim Carrey!)
There’s something daunting about unexpectedly being offered a graphic window into so long ago, when so much in my life and world was so different…
The letters are even more daunting. I haven’t read them carefully yet. Truthfully, I’m sort of afraid to. They were mostly written when I was in college and on through my 20’s. There are postcards and letters from Europe. And birthday and Father’s Day cards. And a few much longer letters. The few I looked at quickly… what’s makes me nervous, even threatens, is to suddenly hear my own voice half a life time ago. Like I said, I’m almost afraid to read them. As far as I’ve gotten is to notice how nice my handwriting was back then (when one wrote by hand!).
What’s so scary? I can’t say exactly yet. Maybe just the harsh reality of so much distance covered. How long ago that was. But surely, also the fear of missed opportunities. Chances lost, now gone forever. Hearing in my own voice the echo of my own mistakes.
In our service at church on New Year’s Eve, one of the worshipers began her prayer, “I’m trying to remember what I said in this service last year…”
Maybe hearing one’s earlier self wouldn’t be so daunting if it were intentional and planned? If we “signed on” to checking back in in some formal way, to look at and learn from the differences between then and now?
Of course, it could turn out to be very positive. When I get up the nerve to read all these messages I wrote so long ago, I might stumble upon the lessons learned, the good distance ahead I’ve made, how we’ve grown and matured, what I know and understand and am capable of now that I wasn’t then.
I’m going to suggest you and I consider writing ourselves a letter this New Year’s. Write it now and then set is aside someplace safe (where you will remember it later!). Or perhaps, better, send it to someone with the request that they return it to you at a pre-agreed-upon date. Next New Year’s. Or in 10 years!
Such a practice could become a deliberate way of agreeing to evaluate your own progress, to judge for yourself (hopefully compassionately!) how you are doing, and hopefully begin to appreciate the distance forward you have covered. What you have learned. What is easy now that earlier was a struggle. I’m thinking this practice could be something like when one worries one isn’t getting much done. But if one makes a to-do list and then checks off what does get accomplished, voila’ … you surprise yourself how productive you actually have been!
You could become your own historian, with a reliable “textual record” of what was important to you now — not just the disconnected bits and pieces that our faulty memories serve up.
Try writing a letter to the person you will have turned into by next New Year’s. Or in a decade. That such a letter can at the least jog your memory about what mattered to you most and what you struggled with right now. And it might help you begin to be able to see how much you have gotten accomplished.
Write to yourself who you are right now. What matters to you most. What you are hoping and dreaming about. What you are afraid of. Or struggling with. Who right now you enjoy spending a day with. What made you cry recently. What’s the most beautiful thing you have seen or can imagine. The nicest thing anyone has ever done for you so far. What you are doing that you think is most important. Maybe even include what you have been thinking about — or wondering or doubting about — God lately.
Write to yourself what you hope you will be doing, or able to do, when you read the letter.
When I read historians trying to explain how things came to be, I often think if a historian could go back in history and experience or at least interview people of times past, history would be very different. Richer. We might understand better what worked and what didn’t. And how our world came to be.
Perhaps we could do this for ourselves, simply by writing ourselves a letter…
See you in church (in this whole New Year),