A Blessing for the New Year

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One of my favorite things to do at the closing of each month is to take a moment for reflection. To observe what has gone well, what has changed, and what I might like to do differently in the month ahead. December calls for special attention because it marks the ending of not only a month but also the collective calendar year.

Personally, I’m a New Year’s resolution kind of girl. I like setting goals – both achievable and dreamable – and setting an intention for the new year. Maybe it’s a word that gently guides the next 12 months. A friend of mine contemplated the word fullness as she prepares for the birth of her and her husband’s second daughter. Perhaps 2023 could be the year of balance or resilience or generosity.

It’s funny, I used to be a sceptic of resolutions because I rarely ever kept them. It’s dark and cold during Illinois winters and much of my motivation often dwindles three weeks into January. Which I think is why I’ve moved away from stating specific things I want to accomplish, although I may write them down to refer back to because I don’t like them brushed by the wayside either. But regardless of whether we buy into this kind of wishful thinking, I think it’s still important to mark our endings and beginnings. To honor them, celebrate them, and grieve them. I think it helps us adjust and keeps our lives from moving past without our permission.

Naming things helps me stay aware and connected to my life, and resolutions give me hope and a sense of direction – which may not look the same in the months to follow – but I’ll deal with that when it comes. Which is why I encourage people to make resolutions despite being uncertain of the outcome.

We make the best decisions we can with the information we have, and there is no shame in changing our minds or adjusting to fit newfound circumstances. We’re not failures for not following through. We’re humans with the best intentions, and while I wholeheartedly believe there is a place for endurance and embracing discomfort, there has to be balance.

We’re entering the Christmas season which is full of warmth and expectancy. It’s one of my favorite times of year. Not necessarily because of all the lights and toasty drinks and abundance of sweets that entice us at a few too many social exchanges, but because of the anticipation of Christ.

Advent begins the church’s liturgical calendar, drawing special attention to the four weeks leading up to Christmas and preparing our hearts in remembrance and celebration of the birth of Christ. Each week represents something different and is marked by the lighting of a candle. The first candle symbolizes hope, the second faith, the third joy, and the fourth peace. In a way, Christmas readies us for the end of our Western calendar year, but it marks the beginning of the Christian calendar, a gentle reminder that life begins and ends with Christ.

May we learn to bookend our years with Him, acknowledging His presence that so sweetly saturates our lives. Through our humble beginnings and messy middles, one word that continues to be pressed upon my mind is God’s withness. I’ve had some recent life changes – some exciting and some sad. The future is unknown, but it holds great expectations as well as some uncertainty and fear, but perhaps that is where God’s withness is a comfort.

I’m not sure what you’re trying to leave behind in 2022 and what learned lessons will board with you in 2023, but as we make our plans, may we learn to hold them loosely. Resolutions may change – I hope you make them anyway.

I hope there are things you leave behind as you reflect on this past year. May the weight of shame not haunt you and grief not keep you company for long. I pray joy surprises you when you least expect it and there is peace between you and your neighbors – starting with your family. May you not be afraid to make changes for fear of what the outcome may hold. And when you do, may you not simply ask, “What can I get out of this?” but “How can I take God with me on the journey?” May God’s withness keep you steady and comfort you through the road ahead. Amen.

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