Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Doesn't Always Mean a New Year

The wind is cold as I trudge back to my car with my coffee. It’s been a mild winter so far, but as I glance up at the gray sky, it's obvious that the icy winter has finally returned. I shiver as I wait for the car to warm up, unable to stop myself from reflecting on this past year. New Year’s is, in many ways, my least favorite holiday of the year. Christmas has its own ghosts, but the enforced celebration of a new year inevitably turns me back to the year before, and like a company review, forces me to analyze the life that was, in this case, 2006.

Most writers are unavoidably self-analytical to the point of neurosis. It comes with the territory. To observe the world of humanity is also to observe one’s own role in that world. What we see is often not pleasant. And as a Christian, introspection seems to fit hand in hand with that same tendency. This year, when I look back, I see so many things I wish that I could change, accomplishments that didn’t happen, goals that were not met. Like most New Year’s, this will be one where I will once again rededicate myself to working harder, pushing farther to grow and learn and become all that I am supposed to be, all that I should achieve. At thirty-four, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself that this year will be different from the next, that I will achieve any of the hopes and dreams I felt as a child.

My tires crunch over the snow crusted parking lot as I head home. The traffic is light still, but in a few hours I know that the streets will be packed with a swelling mass anxious to ring in the new year. Maybe that’s what worries me the most. Maybe that’s why I can’t seem to work up any enthusiasm for my gathering tonight with my friends. Will this year really be a new year? Or will it be an updated version of last year?

When I was young, I had so many dreams about what I would do when I was ‘grown up’. As a young Christian, I had dreams of a world wide ministry and marriage and family. By this time, I figured I would be well along that path. None of that has occurred, and while I have begun to step back towards the ministry at last, it has been with a shaking trepidation and little thought of my earlier expansiveness. New Year’s reminds me of all that has occurred this past year, and my failure to reach all that I envisioned.

As I park my car in the tiny lot that serves as reserved parking for my building, I still can not decide if I’ll even bother going out tonight. The truth is that I don’t want to celebrate a new year. I’m not ready. I don’t have a family. I haven’t accomplished enough. My books have not been published, and while my knowledge of the world has grown significantly, my influence over that world has not. Not enough, anyway. And I feel it, too. I feel it when I meet a woman. I feel it when I talk to ‘successful’ men my age making mounds of money or in line for the right promotion or about to have their third child in their happy family. And being a Christian sometimes doesn’t help. Sometimes it’s at the church, more than any other place, where I feel the shadow of my inadequacy.

The coffee is good, hot and sweet on my tongue. Thank goodness for the consistency of Starbucks. I take a few sips and finally push myself out of the car. The sparrows are singing up a storm in the bushes adjacent to the parking lot, and I wander over quietly, so as not to disturb their song.

And that’s when I start to pray.

As difficult as it is, I know that there are many positive things in my life. My job. My family. My friends. Beautiful people to which I would gladly entrust my life. And it is in the midst of my prayer of thanks that the revelation of New Year’s hits me. Every year really is a new year. Much like our lives, God wipes the slate clean for us, and asks us to join Him. He does not bully or rip me with guilt, but tenderly holds out his arms and asks me to consider Him, and to forget the past year’s mistakes and failures.

I sip from my coffee, and stare at the sparrows fluttering loudly in the bushes.

“I’m here, Lord.” I whisper, unwilling to break the hush over my soul.

For the next few minutes, I sense it. Sense my Father’s love for me and His desire for new beginnings. Oh, I know some of us like to shut up these moments and call it melodramatic nonsense, but over the years I’ve learned that it’s in these moments where my soul truly breathes. Still, it catches me by surprise. I can not say a word and my gaze fixates on a little gray sparrow fluttering and singing near the bottom of the bush. With all the sparrows comfortably nestled above her, she seems content down near the ground to sing and hop on her branch.

Within a culture that is so comparative and competitive, it can be difficult to think of ourselves as successful, especially when we compare our lives to our original dreams. And while it is good and necessary to dream, sometimes we forget that God is more interested in our character, in who we become, than what we have accumulated. Especially for men, I think.

I did not have a book published this year. My earnings did not increase. I do not have a world wide ministry. And yet, I became a better son this year. I have learned much about friendship and servanthood. And as a man, I am making strides at tearing down the poser who so often wants to assert himself in place of the real me. Maybe, just maybe, this past year was a good year, and maybe, just maybe, next year will truly be a new year.

I watch my sparrow near the bottom of the bush, still hopping on her branch. For a moment, she’s still, and I wonder if she will try to move up to a higher perch. I can see the gray stripes on her breast as she quivers, and suddenly, she starts singing again, content with her perch. With a smile, I finally head up to my apartment. Looking forward is always good, and without dreams we die. But contentment can often be found if we are willing to sit still, and start singing.

“Happy New Year.” I whisper as I pull out my keys… “Happy New Year.”

May God grant all your dreams this coming year...