– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director
Christmas is over. The New Year is looming.
There is a natural tendency for reflection as one year ends and the new year emerges.
It seems like we always look back on the past year with a jaundiced eye. This has an almost universal feel, perhaps, a normal part of human existence. We relive the disappointments, not-so-great experiences, and we have a nasty taste in our mouth as we review the year. We are so glad it’s over! But we have hope for the coming year. Hope for good and blessing. Hope that we don’t experience any suffering in the coming year.
As I reflect on the meaning of this time of reflection and the longer I live as a guest on this planet, I‘ve come to realize that every new year will have its good times, and consequently, its bad times. There is a basis to this. After all, Jesus himself promised us in John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble.”
When he says this, I don’t think he means to depress us. Rather, he is giving us a bit of reality, and, at the same time, a sense of hope, for he goes on to say: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
After all, hope keeps us going. Hope promises something better. Hope is what we need.
But as I read the sweet posts about hope for the coming year, my skepticism comes out. I guess, I’m coming to the realization the only hope we can really depend on is our hope in heaven. Earlier in John 14, Jesus describes heaven and promises to bring us there with him. Heaven is the place where there is no looking back in regret or memories of pain. In heaven, we won’t consider the future with the chance of better times.
Instead as Revelations 21:4 says: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ Heaven is the best of times. Heaven truly is our greatest hope.
Not that reflection is a waste of time while we are present on the earth. There are things we can learn as we look back on the old year and look forward to the new one. Perhaps it is an opportunity to look at the good times as a practice of gratitude. When we remember these ‘good’ times we are able to see God’s goodness and, in turn, thank him for the many blessings we have from him.
As a converse, we can look at the “bad” times. Maybe we can see how God has been with us during the hard places of the year. We recognize how he has sustained us and given us strength to endure. Looking back helps us to remember that this isn’t our home. It speaks of our longing for the place where Eden is restored, and life is as God meant it to be for us.
Let me end with this poem by John O’Donohue, which started my musings on the idea of hope in the New Year. May it bless you as you reflect on the past year, and look forward to the hope of heaven.
AT THE END OF THE YEAR
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they become inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
Excerpt from ‘At the End of the Year’