It’s 5:43 p.m. central standard time on New Year’s Eve as I begin typing this. How was your year?
I’ve been trying to remember what mine was like, and it’s gone by so fast that sometimes I don’t even remember how I spent it.
In so many ways, at so many times, I have felt like a failure this year. I have not followed through with certain plans, goals, hopes and dreams I had for 2017. I have been on the brink of colossal change and then have run away terrified. I have yearned to be somewhere else. I have not responded well to stress, and then let the results of my poor responses come back to bite me. And I have felt even more of a failure because of that. I have felt stuck in a rut that I don’t know how to climb out of. I have sometimes felt like I’m standing in the River Jordan up to my knees, and the water’s not going down.
This year has been full of unexpected beautiful things. New friendships. Deepened old friendships. Laughter, tears, and laughter and tears at the same time. Trips I didn’t start the year planning to take. Learning to do things I didn’t know I could do, or that the doing of had scared me. Growing creatively and learning the importance of creating and sharing what was given to me. Learning to be patient with myself in failure (real or self-perceived) without letting myself off the hook for things that are my responsibility (I’m still learning that one).
If I had to sum up the theme of this year I think it would be wrestling. And what I’ve wrestled most with, in the many, many areas I’ve wrestled, has been who gets to decide what my life should look like, how it should go, what the details of it should be. As Christians we say Christ is the Lord and King of our lives — but babe, if you really mean it, then you get down to some pretty nitty-gritty stuff. C.S. Lewis says it like this:
“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
I’ve loved that quote for a long time, but oh man, it hurts to die. Oh man it hurts. I spent a lot of this year chasing — in my thoughts, at least, if not always in my actions — my idea of what I wanted my life to look like, or pursuing things I thought would make me happy or successful or an adult in my own right. Whatever that means. Don’t get me wrong — a lot of those things were good, great even, and not unworthy goals or pursuits in themselves. But the reasons why I was pursuing them and what I hoped to get out of gaining them were often where the problems lay.
In 2017, my goals were “rest easy” and “pursue people.” I actually made some progress on that second one, miracle of miracles. I still don’t really think I know how to rest — but that’s a discussion for another time.
In 2018, my goals, in their rough-and-still-taking-shape stage, are Let go. Keep back nothing. Look for Christ.
I hope I didn’t make you think I expect it to be easy. Because it will probably be harder than I can imagine. But, if by God’s grace I grow in those areas, it will also be better than anything I can imagine.
Douglas Kaine McElvey, author of Every Moment Holy, wrote a beautiful liturgy that perfectly encapsulates what I want for 2018.