The other side of the bongs
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So, Christmas is over and the New Year is lurking perilously close, just out of sight but definitely there. Waiting. The conveyor belt that is life is carrying me helplessly nearer the end of this old year and towards the yawning opening that is the New one and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Hence 'helplessly'. Nice bit of redundancy there.
This is an anxious time of year for me, as you might have gathered. You know me inside and out, Lord God, and so nobody will be more aware than you that my discomfort levels rise round about now.
I have always thought that the New Year has such potential, but in my experience it rarely lives up to it. I have spent many years trying to find the perfect way to spend New Year and as the 31st bong-bong-bongs into the 1st with Big Ben's chimes it has found me in a variety of places. I have been in pubs counting down the 10-9-8 with a few hundred other inebriated individuals looking for fun and company; I've been on London Bridge for the Millennium celebrations packed tightly together with a few million other cold and squashed people looking at the fireworks reflected in the Thames and the flashing blue lights of an ambulance as it tried in vain to reach a man whose heart chose the worst time ever to stop.
I've been at parties with paper hats and party poppers poised for explosion as Big Ben chimes the big chime, and I've been on the sofa with one other precious person and a glass of champagne watching celebs act silly on the telly. I've even tried going to bed at ten and sleeping through it more than once. I've found that this particular course of action actually has the most positive effect on mood on 1 January. It may be that it's to be recommended, but then it's a shame to miss it if New Year has such potential, isn't it?
The best one? I was once in Antarctica sitting on the deck of a ship on honeymoon with my husband (who else?) and we sat, party clothes bundled up underneath huge puffy jackets, hair squished under woolly hats and hands buried in pockets. We were the only ones outside as a party went on below. The icebergs loomed pale in the light from the windows and the only sound was the wind. The sea was inky black, the sky inkier still, with more stars than I've ever seen. The milky way was there in all it's cloudy glory and the stars of the southern hemisphere fascinated my amateur astronomer husband used to different sky. Fireworks forbidden because of pollution, as the year turned into the next one, the Captain sounded the ship's horn - a long, melancholy wail that must have made the penguins jump. It was moving. That was probably the best way to see in the New Year that I've tried.
But whatever I do, the moment passes and there's what to do next. The old year has gone and the reality is that it's the middle of the night - a night like any other - and the next day is inevitably an anti-climax. It's now January, still winter, still cold/wet/windy/bleak/dank and there seems nothing to look forward to. The festive season is well and truly over and the decorations look out of place.
Why does the New Year depress me and make me anxious? I think it's about letting go. As one year rolls into the next, I have to let go what's past.
I'm not very good at this, am I?
As the sort of woman who replays every significant (and, often, insignificant) conversation in her mind for hours afterwards wishing she'd said it differently and wondering what the other person thinks, letting a whole year slip from my hands is hard. I can no longer control what's past; not that I ever could. It was an illusion, the control, I think I knew that - but somehow allowing a sneaking suspicion in there is not the same as an official 'What's done cannot be undone,' in the ominous words of Lady Macbeth.
For me, with a tendency to live too much in the past, New Year feels like the loss of something. A familiar year. Better the devil you know (Ahem. Sorry). The outgoing year feels like a battered old comfy sofa and I sort of want to stay sprawled on it rather than get up and walk through that dazzlingly bright doorway to who knows where.
I tend to favour licking the wounds of the outgoing year than looking forward to the new one. A new year is full of possibility, yes; but if your glass is half empty instead of half full then it's also full of hurdles and challenges and difficulties. It's a scary blank page, a white space. Unsullied. Perfect in it's untouchedness. And I'm about to stumble all over it and mess it up.
See? I've just splurged out all my New Year Angst. I'm needing help to get past this, Lord, because it's going to happen whether I'm all ready for it or not. That conveyor belt that I'm riding has no manual override. Well, there is, but only you can reach the button.
A friend has just sent me a verse from the Bible.
'Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.'
And that's it, really, isn't it? I trust you. I trust you to lead me into the New Year and I trust you that there is nothing waiting the other side of those bongbongbongs that we can't handle together. There's nothing there that you haven't seen already and there's nothing there that will surprise or shock you, even if it frightens the pants off me.
My confidence is in you, not in me. On my own I rush things, I speak too soon and too much, I make mistakes, I break promises, I don't do what I should do and I do what I shouldn't. When my confidence is in me, I come unstuck. This coming year - I will trust in you.
This year I want to go where you want me to go. I want to put one foot in front of the other in the full knowledge that your footsteps are there already and there is no safer way to go than when I'm matching my stride with yours. There's no other certain way of getting where you want me to go.
Lord, the last few years have begun with a wonderful sense of anticipation and you haven't let me down. The anticipation is still there, but this year I feel a bit different; there's a scoop of trepidation too. I don't feel as if I'm leaping into the new year with much enthusiasm even though I have a strong sense that you're taking me somewhere. Part of me is excited but I'm a little wary as well. There seems so much to do. So many mountains to climb. Such a long way to go.
The dreams I have, even the ones that I am convinced that you've blessed, they seem so far away.
This morning in Sarah Young's 'Jesus Calling' I read:
'Enjoy the adventure of finding yourself through losing yourself in Me.'*
I read this and for the first time the New Year felt a little less scary. I do have plans and hopes and dreams and ambitions and I know that you know what they are because you planted them in my heart. I know that your timing is better than mine even when I'm annoyed with you for not getting me there fast enough. I know that nothing is achieved without commitment and hard work and that nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. I know all those things. I believe that you'll take me a step closer this coming year.
But maybe the destination is not as important as the journey. The last few years it's seemed to me that you and I have been on a warp-drive trip together; you've been teaching me so much that at times my head has spun. I know that you have more in store. I know that before I get where you want me to go, or do what you want me to do, you want me to be the person you want me to be.
So maybe the destination is not as important as the journey. At least not right now. Perhaps I can limp over the threshold of the new year holding onto your arm and leaning into you. Maybe I can fix my eyes on you so that your glory shows me the way and lights up the dark places on the way and shows me the potholes so I don't come crashing down. If the new year is a blank page then perhaps with you by my side you will give me the words to write on it.
I like the sound of an adventure if you are coming with me. I like the sound of finding myself - the me you created me to be. I like the sound of losing myself in you. In being so close to you that you rub off on me. So close that I can reflect your light to a world that has too many shadows. I like the sound of inhabiting you, and you in me. Yes please, Lord God. I want all you have of that.
Whatever I do on New Year's Eve, there's no way of carrying over the fireworks at midnight to the pale morning of New Year's Day.
I'm wondering if starting a new year with quietness and deliberation and a confidence in something unshakeable is better than with a bang and a grand gesture and a flurry of dynamic resolutions.
So what if the new year is the end of something?
You're helping me to see the beginning of something too. A fresh start - because you're the God of fresh starts. Help me to take off the fear and hang it up this side of the threshold, before I deliberately step through.
We're off on an adventure, you and me, aren't we?
Maybe the New Year is full of potential after all.
* Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, 2007 Integrity Publishers.
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