The beginning of a new year feels somewhat like the first day of school, the start of a job, or the commencement of a sports season. Except for the new year fireworks, they are all uniformly filled with possibility, opportunity, and untrammeled dreams. Resolutions are made, plans are delineated, and goals are set. The fresh gusts of hope set our hearts a-sailing. But the journey into newness at some point runs aground on the shoals of reality. Life as we know it now taints the best of hopes, tarnishes the best of dreams. Our longing for newness never matches our experience…until…
Until we meet the God of the New: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Cor. 5:17). The trajectory of the Bible’s story is always toward the new, not an annihilation of the old, but a re-creation of it, refurbishing with all of its original luster and shine—and even more so. But how do we enter such newness? How do we make this our experience? I got a taste of just how recently.
I have been meeting for some time with two young men, once former students of mine, now with their own families and jobs. The purpose of our meetings was to help them become more aware of God’s presence and work in their lives. The classic term for this is spiritual direction. This week we met to review the year and what we have learned. I was astonished at what I heard. One of them shared how he is coming to see how much of his life has been run by shame and fear, shame over his failures and fear of failing others. Yet in that very place of raw awareness, of feeling like an abandoned orphan, God has been working powerfully to help him feel loved and accepted as a son. The other told how he is overcoming self-loathing and learning to feel comfortable for the first time in his own skin. He is allowing himself to be loved by the Father and that in turn is affecting how he interacts with others. He is both much more direct and honest and yet at the same time much more willing to love.
As I listened, I felt the connection of hearing in them so much of my own struggle to leave the old and enter the new. Shame, fear of failure, self-loathing—all of these were once imbedded constructs in my old way of being, seemingly impervious to change, Yet, like both of them, I too have experienced the miracle of newness in all of these places. And so with the growing connection I felt with them, I also sensed a joy tinged with something approaching awe. I was listening in on the wonder of newness, the newness that God was creating inside them. We were all being ushered into a landscape of glory, light, and love.
How did the three of us begin to enter such a landscape? By doing something really, really simple. Instead of making promises to work harder and try more, we simply began to note how God was already working in our lives. Each morning we went back through the previous day, noting both where we felt God’s presence and where we slipped back into our old ways. One called forth praise and thanksgiving, the other confession of sin and prayer for healing. In so doing, we found that God had already been diligently at work to make us into new creatures. The problem is that we so often hadn’t seen it and thus couldn’t cooperate in the process.
So instead of making promises for the new year, maybe a better idea is to try to see more clearly how God is already at work, keeping His promise to make everything new. After all, His great business is newness: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:19).