Friday, January 1, 2016

strange reasons to be happy for the new year

“There’s something special about a fresh start.”

A few weeks ago a friend was telling me why the new year is one of her favorite holidays to celebrate. I had had the opportunity to serve as her coach for the preceding four months. In the autumn, we had been meeting regularly for her to consider questions related to her vocation. A number of issues in her workplace concerned her in 2015 and now, at the end of the year, she was looking forward to 2016.

The last time I remember getting very excited about celebrating the new year was in my childhood. As a pastor I tend to put most of my emotional energy into Christmas, leaving little left for the week after. Last night, for example, my wife and I went to bed before midnight. Our wishes of Happy New Year were spoken this morning in the kitchen after a loaf of banana bread was placed in the oven to bake.

Still, my friend’s sense of excitement over the new year is beginning to rub off on me this morning. I feel happy. I can’t explain exactly why but here are some random reflections that may be of interest to you.

1. Uncertainty. That seems a strange reason to be happy. Yes, I’m uncertain about…well…the whole year. Who knows what is to come? I’m uncertain on a number of fronts. In the forefront of my mind right now are questions related to my work—and especially that which I regard as my life calling.

There are so many possibilities. With possibility comes openness and with openness comes uncertainty.

2. Trust. When life is uncertain what can one do but trust?

I believe there is a Person who loves us all beyond measure and telling. I believe this Person showed us his love by coming close to us in Jesus. I believe that Jesus shatters our certainties because he wants us to practice childlike trust.

I admit that I use the word “believe” in an aspirational sense. Last year at this time I chose a “word for 2015.” My wife started doing this while we lived in Spain. One year she chose the word “Freedom.” It was her way of saying she wanted to grow in freedom and learn to practice it and extend it to others. It made a big difference in her life, this practice of “choosing a word.” In fact, it made such a difference in her that at one point that year I jokingly said to her, “Heather, you’re so free it’s scaring me!”

Well, last year I knew I needed to grow in belief—specifically, to stop doubting myself so much. The problem with doubting oneself is that if you’ve been given certain talents but you doubt you are any good you deprive others of the benefits your talents can offer the world. We are all invested with certain abilities that can serve the common good. If you are plagued with excessive self-doubt, the effect of your talents is greatly diminished.

I typically admonish others to have a healthy sense of self-doubt (otherwise we become cocky, arrogant and proud) but if one has too much self-doubt it is not good. That is my problem: excessive self-doubt.

So, last year I sensed the Person-Who-Loves saying to me, “Stop doubting yourself. Believe.” That is why I chose that word and that is why I think it will be my word again this year.  I think I need more practice at it.  Yes, I believe, but I am still learning to be God’s child, to more fully trust.

3. Risk. When trust is strong, one can take risks, experiment, try new things.

I remember when our son took his first steps. We recorded it on video. My wife and I were across from each other, sitting on the floor. One of us sat in the doorway to our bedroom and the other sat a short distance away in the doorway to our guest room.

I remember Nic looking at me as he walked towards me. I suppose he wasn’t really thinking about walking. He just wanted to get to Daddy.

At that time in his life, walking was risky for him. He could fall, which was not pleasant in the least. But as he saw that he was surrounded by people he could trust, he felt bold to take the risk.

I know that as I practice trusting, I will also need to practice risking. In fact, without risk trust is not really trust.

So this will also be a year of trying new things, risking. But, with risk comes the next item…

4. Swallowing pride.

Those who know me well know that I like people to think well of me. I want them to think I’m…creative, wise and successful. I suppose most everyone likes to have others think well of them but I do believe it can be a hindrance to growth.

The past two years I feel I’ve been tested in this arena, especially. As I stepped into new vocational adventures I’ve lost some friends. Some of this loss is due to simply moving on and loss of contact—but some of it is because a handful of people question the wisdom of my choices.

It’s humbling.

In starting something new, it’s humbling when others see your fragile missteps. It’s humbling being dependent on the good will of others. It’s humbling coming to grips with your own limitations.

But in that place of humility we find a source of strength. We can see self-sufficiency for the sham that it is. We can see the wonder and beauty of companionship on the journey, that we are not alone, that others are right by our side…cheering you on despite your limitations. We discover that we really do need one another and that is not a weakness—it is what makes us strong.

In fact, I feel that if I had any success in the practice of “believing” in 2015 it was due in large measure to the experience of “shared belief”—that is, I saw others believing and that gave me the courage to believe as well. Thank you, friends, for believing with me (and for me) when I felt weak.

Because of that, not too long ago I sat down to simply remind myself who I am, imperfections and all. I am a firm believer that, whatever faults one carries, one should always just be one’s own self and not try to pretend to be someone they are not.  

Out of that honest inventory, I then wrote down four words to serve as a focus, to consistently nurture these ways of “being me.”  They are:


I share these thoughts with you in hopes that this might encourage you to reflect on how to practice “being yourself” this coming year—after all, the world needs you to be you.


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