I love the fresh feel of this day: a blank page, a new year, a symbolic fresh slate. Of course, it is just a normal 24-hours like any other 24-hour cycle. Yet we join to acknowledge it is “New Year’s Day.”
Looking ahead into a fresh year can be hopeful and exciting. So many goals to pursue and dreams to reach for! Like a great big shiny platter overflowing with inspiration and determination, 2013 gets served up to us to relish with joy.
Yet in all the joy, determination, and goal-setting (which I “get” as an obsessive goal-setter myself), I must play Debbie Downer for a second. Because, if you’re like me, you’ve come to know that our hope isn’t some fairy-tale world of goodnesses. Because, if you’re like me, you may start to wonder on a day like today, “What heartache or tragedy or trial will befall me in 2013 . . . that I cannot even imagine now?” Not pessimism but realism forces these questions, because heartache or stress often blind-sides us. That’s part of the horror of tragedies — those who suffer often have had no time to prepare, no notion of what was coming.
Jesus offers us a big dose of this “downer” realism when he tells his followers, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). (That’s not the most seeker-sensitive message, Jesus, we may want to whisper. That’s not the most strategic slogan to brand your Way!) But there’s no hokey, slick, sparkley-toothed salesmanship around here — no “just trust Jesus more to get a problem-free life” garbage. Jesus will have none of it. That’s simply not the gospel.
As we look forward into 2013, squinting to glimpse what may take shape, we face two realities. The first: What we cannot control. Life may throw some major curveballs your way and mine. I’ve lived enough life and loved enough people to see the pain of cancer, early widowhood, divorce, and an endless list of other griefs and losses. Stresses, anxieties, injustices, broken-relationships — these may all horn their way into the idyllic vista of 2013 for you and for me. We can do our best to handle them and to rely on God through them, but ultimately we are powerless to stop them.
The second: What we can control. Jesus invites us to follow him. Will this be a year in which we deepen that following? In which we more intentionally respond to God’s nudgings toward greater obedience, more intentional sacrifice, or deeper intimacy with him? Will we choose to form spiritual habits that bring life to what’s static? That bring vibrancy to shadows of complacency in our lives? Will we step into vulnerable honesty, laying bare struggles and sins that plague us and work with God as he forms new character in us?
And where the first meets the second — when unforeseen trouble collides with our life — we can turn in resolution toward Jesus’ full message about life’s difficulties: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33-34)?
As we step into a month on this blog focused on discipleship — on how we can intentionally strengthen faith and grow as followers — here is where we must begin. A resolution to have peace in Christ. No matter what comes, we can choose to center our souls in the peace that comes from knowing, loving, and trusting him — the Overcomer.