I’m not sure what I was thinking last year around this time, but I’m sure I had some kind of optimistic notion about all of the ways that 2013 would be better than 2012, just as I’m trying to be optimistic about 2014 being better than 2013.
Looking ahead, there’s all kinds of stuff I want to change like being more efficient with my work so I have more time for my family or finding more reliable ways to earn freelance writing income. I want to be more generous with others and less self-serving, as well as less focused on my own little world with my insecurities and anxieties.
Actually, my goals kind of look the same from last year.
OK, they’re a carbon copy.
It’s not that I haven’t made progress. We have a lot of great stuff going on in our family. Ethan is a true joy, and I love him more than ever. My wife and I survived a really demanding fall semester for her, and we’re looking forward to several road trips this coming year that are work-related but should be fun to do together. I’ve written/co-written 3 books in 2013, and I’m excited to share them with the world in 2014.
So many good things happened in 2013. I want to be grateful for it all, but I also have this way of focusing on the stuff that didn’t quite work out. The stuff that I wish was different about our circumstances and about myself.
It’s easy to focus on the failures because they have a real weight. They sit on your heart, driving home the depths of my failures and inability to REALLY change. It’s all slow, incremental progress.
I saw a Twitter hash tag for “#BestYearEver” the other night, and it just made me depressed. Maybe I’m becoming a pessimistic New Englander at heart, but gosh, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
We all want to snap out of it. We want to make progress by leaps and bounds. We want to fly out of the mire and make bold new amazing life-affirming changes. We want to leave our struggles and problems behind.
I want all of that. Don’t you?
But I wonder how many of us will just feel a bit defeated and weary at this time next year. As the optimists and life coaches on Twitter cajole us into seeing bright sparkly wonderfulness in the coming year, we’ll look back at all of the ways 2014 wasn’t the best year ever. It was just the “#MehYearEver.”
Every person is different, but here’s what I’m at with all of this…
We all live with this tension of who we are and who we hope we’ll become. We want to do big things for God, but we also struggle to pray and discern God’s will. We know the good we should do, but sometimes our sense of self-preservation, greed, or self-righteousness get in the way.
We will fail. Even if we do end up making big bold leaps forward, there will be low moments. Sometimes those low moments stretch into long periods of time that feel defeating and endless.
That’s what will never change. We’ll always struggle to one degree or another with our aspirations and God’s best for us. We’re going to fall short. At one point or another, we’re going to need to confess something, maybe even something really big. We’re going to have to face shame, disappointment, and self doubt.
We could give up right now. Who wants to mess with all of that? Isn’t it safer to just scroll through Facebook in search of the outrage of the day?
As certain as it is that we’ll struggle and meet disappointment, it’s just as certain that God is right here with us in this mess. this presence of God among us is why we need Christmas every year.
We don’t need a new gadget, pair of pants, or gift card. We need the grace-filled, hope-infusing reminder that Jesus has come into our mess. He’s not surprised that we’re high maintenance and dripping with drama. He’s not disgusted by our envy, greed, or anger because he’s come to heal it all.
Don’t jump right to the cross during Christmas. Take some time to dwell in the crowded stench of the manger. If you have children, that should be really easy to imagine.
Here is God incarnate entering into our world of political intrigue, children written off as collateral damage, people enslaved, families broken by addiction, parents distracted by smart phones, and children searching for something to believe in. God is right here in our disappointments, anxieties, and fears.
This coming year may not be the best year ever. But I wonder if we are using the wrong measurement for the “best year ever.”
We can’t change the fact that we will struggle.
By the same token, we can’t change the fact that Jesus has come to dwell among us and is here right now.
We can’t control everything that will happen to us. We’ll catch breaks, we’ll work hard, we’ll make smart moves, mentors will support us, and we’ll fail miserably.
If we stake everything on the results of the coming year, we’ll most likely be disappointed in one way or another. At the very least we’ll stir up a lot of anxiety trying to control circumstances in this big chaotic world.
Do you want the best year ever?
Try this: Convince yourself every morning that Jesus is with you.
This is not rocket science. It’s the big promise he made to his disciples before his ascension.
He’s with us until the end of the age.
I know that the Star Wars prequels were terrible and Miley Cyrus was almost voted TIME’s person of the year, but shockingly the world has not come to an end. What can I say? God made this world of sturdy stuff.
Try as you may, you can’t change the presence of Jesus. We will struggle to pray. We will doubt the presence of Jesus. We will go through circumstances that make it appear untrue.
But Christmas is our annual opportunity to once again take hold of the truth that God is indeed among us and is mighty to save us even if we’re going through the worst year ever.
Whether you face storms or sunshine in the coming year, Jesus will be there.
We cannot change our struggles, but that doesn’t change God’s presence.