Who Needs A New Year?

New Year’s celebrations aren’t really my thing. As I child, our family didn’t focus on the passing of an old year. I have no nostalgic memories of that particular holiday. Even as an adult, I don’t find New Year’s day any more special than the day that came before it or  follows it.

Each January, especially now with social media at its height, I’m made privy to the memories of the old year and plans for the new year of my family, friends, and acquaintances. Some wax eloquent about all the people who made their year so special; others make staunch resolutions with high hopes, still others curse the past year, thrilled to see it go. In all honesty, I find the celebration somewhat pointless.

While that sounds harsh and somewhat cynical, i.t isn’t If there’s anything I’ve learned in my “adult” life, it’s that a calendar date indicating a new 365 day time period doesn’t insure any special promises. It is, in fact, another year, where life will simply move on with both pain and pleasure, joy and sadness, surprises and setbacks, contentment and dissatisfaction, hellos and goodbyes, goals reached and abandoned.

If a year has been particularly difficult, we simply send it to history, and hope for a year full of, well, anything but difficulties. Can we say “wishful thinking?” (Please don’t view this as a Debbie Downer visit.)

Choosing to accept life as it comes — filled with both hardships and happiness — and not depending on it to change everything takes some moxie and a heap of trust in God. Jeremiah understood this.

Up until chapter three of Lamentations, Jeremiah wept over all the punishment, problems and pain he, along with the Israelites, had endured. He was intimately acquainted with the wrenching of life yet understood that it wasn’t the calendar changing to a new year that gave hope but it is a God whose great love and faithful mercies cover us. His hope lay in the truth that “because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (3:22).

It’s not an entire year that threatens to consume me, but often a single day. I’m not alone in that feeling. There are days when the sun rises and we wonder if we can even face it: the worries too great, the pain to deep, the fear too strong. Honestly in those moments, no changing of a date will help.

Only God can. Isaiah 40:31 says, But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. I’ve often read this verse and prayed for superhuman strength to face a difficult situation. I’ve never received it. In fact, what I have been given is simply the strength to make it through the day, my faith in God still in tact. I have walked and not fainted from the pain of loneliness. My heart has soared like an eagle in a desperate moment as I wept over the betrayal of a friend because I remembered a God who is faithful and bottles all my tears. I have continued to run my race and not grown so weary that I’ve chosen to leave the course even when the path before me seems impossible.

The reality that I haven’t given up is evidence of both Lamentations 3:22 and Isaiah 40:31. My soaring eagle strength and ability to not be consumed manifests each time I take another step, another breath, and travel another day in hope of my faithful God.

Who needs a new year to have hope for the future? God’s mercies are new EACH day, and I grab hold every morning.

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Skyward Words

“Are you listening to me?”  I’ve asked this question hundreds of times throughout my years of teaching and parenting. The response “I heard you” is clearly not the answer for which I was hoping.

There is a definite difference between the two: hearing someone is simply perceiving the sound with your ears; listening takes notice of and acts on what someone says. Very few of us simply want to be heard. We long for someone to listen.

Psalms 116: 1-2 says “I love the Lord because he hears and answers my prayers. Because he bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath!” What an intimate picture this brings to mind. Not only does God hear our prayers, he bends down and listens. He leans into us as we cry out to him. David knew that his God listened because he had answered his prayers over and over.

Somedays my prayers feel like whispers to the sky. I watch them flutter away and wonder where they will land. When I read David’s words in Psalms, I’m encouraged with a clear picture of what happens to those word wisps. God grabs them in his hand, puts them up to his ear, listens, and makes a plan to answer them. (If you want to be doctrinal, God already has a plan before my words are uttered.) It’s as if in that moment, the plan is unleashed and God begins moving the universe to answer. Oh, it might an imperceptible change that I cannot see, but a domino effect begins as the answer makes its way back to me.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun to look wholeheartedly for any hint of answered prayer. Usually, we look for one giant answer to arrive – like a package in the mail. God can answer that way, but often doesn’t. In fact, the answers most often come in bits and pieces.

Answered prayers aren’t only meant to met my earthly needs. They are radically important to my spiritual development. Learning to accept God’s answer even when it isn’t the one I formulated in my head is a huge part of spiritual maturity. Knowing God listens makes it so much easier to send those petitions skyward and wait confidently, which makes me agree with David: “I will pray as long as I have breath!”