Alas, we meet again. You know I still don’t like you, but we seem to be getting better at maintaining a tolerable coexistence. I hope you don’t take my disdain personally. I wrote you a letter last year about how I was going to change my mindset concerning you, and I think I did. In fact, when you visited last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and preparing to defend it, so that was good. A lot of changes took place last year — so much so that I’m even greeting you from a different time zone this year!
Honestly, I don’t have anything particularly sassy, smart-alecky, or gripey to say to you this year. I suppose this must be what healing looks like. I still don’t look forward to the 23rd, which happens to fall on a Friday this year. I’ll have a class to teach that afternoon, so staying under the covers and pretending not to be a grownup isn’t a valid option. I still have to get the kids to school and then get to school, myself. It’s going to be hard, though. It always is.
Would you believe this is the first Christmas since I lost Nathan that I didn’t cry at all that day? I almost lost it on stage during the Christmas Eve service as we sang Silent Night, though. Normally, I can’t really see the congregation because of the lighting, but they dimmed the lights for the candlelight portion, and I looked over to where the boys were seated. I saw my five boys — thankfully, not setting the pew ablaze — and then my eyes lingered a bit longer on my two nephew-sons. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of Nathan’s facial features lit up in both of them; my eyes got watery and a lump rose in my throat, and I couldn’t sing a couple of lines. I was thinking about singing with him in Glory one day, seeing his face lit up with the Light that lacks shadows, and I felt such a pull on my heart to want to be with him.
Instead of dreading you this year like I have done in the past, I’m going to choose to be thankful for you. Seeing you again is a reminder that my time on earth isn’t yet complete. There’s still work to be finished here, and for reasons often unbeknownst to me, the Lord has designated a few particular things for my doing. So, January, I offer you a truce. Perhaps by the time you roll around again, we might even be friends.
I realize that we’ve had a love-hate relationship for the past few years, and I wanted to let you know that I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt in 2014. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked you, partly because when you come around, I start feeling guilty about all the stuff I had planned to do since the last time I saw you. Seeing your name is a reminder (as if the mirror and closet weren’t reminders enough) of the weight that I know I need to lose. Your name is a reminder of the hamster wheel that my career seems to be stuck in. The picturesque pages in each new calendar remind me of the places I want to visit, the things I want to do, the adventures I’d like to take.
But there is another big reason why I don’t like you. After making it through another Thanksgiving and another Christmas in this new normal (if such a state even exists), you show up in my life unbidden and remind me in no uncertain terms just how long it has been since my brother died. January 23. It’s as if Jan. 1-22 needn’t bother; I’d just as soon skip to the 24th and start the year there. The first twenty-two days only lead up to the day when I want to crawl under the covers and wake up 24 hours later, anyway, so let’s just fast-forward and pretend the day never happened. And yet, every year like clockwork, it rolls around. And every year, I wake up and go through the motions of another day. This will be year five.
You know what, January? I’m tired of dreading you. I’m tired of letting you dictate how I feel about myself and my circumstances. I have some important things to do while you are around this year, and I’m not going to let grief or guilt stop me from accomplishing them. So, feel free to stick around for 31 days again this year. Just don’t expect me to slow down and wait for you to leave.
Whether you make annual New Year resolutions or not, there’s something about another January rolling around that causes us to think about changes. My eldest asked the other day if I had any resolutions this year, and I simply said, “Graduate.” I’ve been working toward this goal for the past four years, although it feels like decades when I’m stumped on part of my research. Graduation is a tangible result – a date, a ceremony, a fancy robe and a piece of paper to prove what I’ve accomplished.
Not all goals are so concrete, though. Some goals we strive toward our whole lives and never quite see the end result. Take your spiritual journey, for example. I reckon if you asked any champion of faith if they have reached the ultimate goal of their Christian walk, they would probably say no. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul (definitely a big name in church history!) wrote that he was still striving for the finish line.
I love the repeating stanza that the songwriter wrote in Psalm 80 (NIRV): “God, make us new again. Let your face smile on us with favor. Then we will be saved.” Is there anything greater that we could achieve than to experience the Lord’s favor? Everything else seems to pale in comparison.
Our faith journey is not like graduation, where you receive a diploma and call it done. Again and again, we need to be renewed. Over and over, we need to refuel our efforts. As Paul stated in Philippians 3:20, we are citizens of heaven, and until the Lord returns to stamp our eternal passports, we have work yet to do. Let’s make the most of it in the coming year.