A new year can bring so many things. Joy and pain. Loss and gain. Excitement and boredom. It can also change us, our perspective and our expectations. It can make our hearts harder or softer. Gracious or judgmental. Hopeful or hopeless. It can even bring life or death. It’s surprising to me, that I don’t really give this much thought when January 1st rolls around. I might make resolutions that are forgotten by February. I might ask God for a word or concept to live by and focus on over the upcoming year. But, to consider the brevity and difficulty of life and how I face those things is seldom something I think about.
That seems like a somber attitude towards the promise of a new year, doesn’t it?
Towards the end of December, I spent a few weeks reading through my journals from the previous year. At the beginning of these journals, I felt like peace and healing were going to be the focus of the year for my family. God DID work both of those things in and around me but not in the way I had anticipated or expected. Yes…I’ve experienced more of His presence and peace than I’ve ever known. And yes… I’ve watched Him either ultimately heal or faithfully begin healing that was desperately needed in me and in the hearts of people I love. I realized, after reading my unfiltered words, that peace grew in my soul because God and I walked through turmoil, heartache, loss, frustration, hopelessness and loneliness together. And I saw healing begin in and around me only after hurt, pain, sorrow, death and affliction did their worst. God is always faithful, but He is seldom playing by the script in my head.
I wanted sweet, easy, “lay me down in green pastures” peace. NOT “walk through the valley of the shadow of death but realize that my love will never leave you” peace. I wanted miraculous, joyful and quick healing. NOT “take your medicine”, “it’s a process” and “you don’t realize what the sickness is” healing. Even though I know better, I tend to think that anything God desires won’t be painful. Jesus should be example enough to realize that’s simply not so.
With these thoughts in mind, I went back to my journals from 2 years ago. Would the same thing hold true? They certainly did! I wrote in my journal, with expectation and excitement, that I felt God would bless our family and that we would praise and love deeper; that we would find freedom from fear, sin and shame; and that we would experience reconciliation, restoration, abundance, and unity. I assumed I knew what he meant because I’d been praying for certain relationships and situations for months. But God is so much greater than what I see and understand. Once again, the script in my head was vastly different, and far less beautiful, than the one the Lord was going to write.
This script, too, was full of painful and difficult chapters.
But it was also full of joy and beauty. It was full of Him!
He was with us in every moment of our lives whether we realized it or not. Genesis 28:16 could have been the cry of my heart as I looked back over those years. In fact, it is probably true of every year.
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”
Sometimes I’m sleep-walking through life. Just making it through the day and not realizing what God might be doing in the middle of the craziness. Unaware of His presence, much less His power.
As I read my journals, I didn’t see moments of incredible insight or wisdom. I didn’t see words from a wise and strong woman. What I saw was a daughter whose heart was loved and carried…all year long. My words reflected back to me the words that my Heavenly Father had been wanting me to hear.
“Always, my dear! I’m always with you.”
As I thought of how true that has been in my life, I realized that my hearts’ desire for this year is to find Him…everywhere and in everything. Not just when life is easy and good but in the middle of the desert places and in the valleys of trouble. To rethink how I view life’s desert places. What if they aren’t always tests, discipline or attacks from the enemy? I certainly believe all of those things happen and I believe we are given the power of prayer to face them, fight them and defeat them. But, what if the desert, wilderness or valley can also be a beautiful gift? What if, at the beginning of each New Year, I spent some time thanking God for His faithfulness, goodness and kindness during the past 12 months and asking Him to lead me into whatever is necessary in order for me to know Him and love Him more? Am I brave enough for that?
I once heard Priscilla Shirer say that we often try to pray away the difficulties God brings into our lives when God desires to use those very difficulties to bless us. Her words have stayed in my mind for over a year.
“We pray to see miracles but, in the next breath, we pray to be taken out of any situation where a miracle would be required.”
I can relate all too well. I’ve lived through those places where a miracle was required and I didn’t like it one bit. I’ve had seasons where I’ve seen the miracle and I’ve had seasons where I didn’t. At least not in the way I would have liked. But one thing has always been true. God has never abandoned me. Not even in the worst of those times. In fact, in the worst of those times, He has been more loving and gracious than I’ve ever known Him to be.
Hosea 2:14-15 is a word from God to the rebellious nation of Israel, but it has become a love letter to me this past year. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit singing it over me as if He were leading me away from my comfortable expectations and into an unknown promise of His love. Sweetly and patiently reminding me of all the hard times in the past and what He has birthed in my heart during those times. Lovingly calling me away as my trustworthy Pied Piper.
“But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
as she did long ago when she was young,
when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.”
Yes, my Father leads me beside still waters, He leads me to the mountaintop and He also leads me into the desert. The dry, hard and desolate desert. The place where I often don’t want to go. But…it’s in the desert where He speaks.
And, OH, how beautiful His voice is!
He restores. Abundantly and beyond all I can think or imagine.
He transforms.Into a new creation that can’t be diminished by the worst this world can do.
He pursues, wins and receives. Because His love and freedom casts out all fear!
Hallelujah! He is so, so good!
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with the New Year and if I’m just proposing a solemn and depressing way of looking at life. I hope that’s not what you gather from all of this. What I am proposing is that it’s good and helpful to look back on our life and recognize God’s faithfulness in the painful places. It’s good and helpful to realize that life won’t always be sunshine and ponies and to consider what we believe about trials and pain. It’s good and helpful to draw a line in the sand of the preverbal desert, before we actually find ourselves there, and make a declaration that we will be faithful to run after God when all hell seems to have broken loose. But, most importantly, it’s not only good and helpful but also life changing to embark on a new year with this prayer on our lips and in our hearts. A prayer that is a paraphrase of words I’ve heard whispered and shouted from the mouths of Saints all over the world who face trials that I can’t imagine. A prayer that could reorient our hearts so that in any trial, our timid and fearful voices would become a holy roar. That is a worthy New Year’s Resolution.
“Lord, make me faithful in this trial and may I recognize your nearness and your love in life or death. May I be an instrument of your peace in whatever you see fit for me to face. For you alone are worthy, you alone are life and you alone are love. To you be all the glory forever and ever. Amen. “