“New year, new day” and other unhelpful advice as we cross the threshold into 2023

I love (almost) everything about the turning of a calendar.

Whether a new school year in August or a new calendar year in January, I drool at the thought of new pens and journals and other (both unnecessary and necessary) paper products.

Last week I cleaned my desk and retreated for 36 hours to close the page on the last year and run my palm along the spine to flatten a crisp new one. I tossed old, broken Christmas ornaments and strands of lights of which half or more had gone dark. I culled through our basement book closet and took the books, lined in stacks from little (and big) hands that couldn’t figure out which shelf they belonged, and put them back in their place. I bought ten new bins from IKEA to organize the books I refuse now to toss.

Everything felt new after last week’s spring cleaning in winter. Except …

Except … me.

You see, 2022 held some deeply jarring unexpected elements for us. And I’m still fumbling to get my footing here, unsure and weak-limbed. In early December, the idealism of my twenties spoke louder than God and convinced me that this rough spot would surely end before the ball dropped and 2023 would be fresh.

Except it didn’t.

My life is much longer than a Hallmark movie, and though the first Christmas began to make everything right in the world, we won’t see its full implications until we cross into eternity.

January 1st was not all that different than December 31st. Typing this seems quite cynical, but I wonder if we need to stay a bit more within the fluid nature of the unfinished to see the Jesus whose friends fell asleep during their last time alone with him before he died.

When we first adopted, a common phrase we heard in adoption circles was this: “healing begins to take root when the number of years your children are in your home exceeds the years they lived outside your home.” I never questioned this. I recited it to others and vaguely marked the calendar.

Unexamined then, I think, now: how silly. As if some magical internal thermometer measured “done” on the day one of our children, adopted at 5, reached 10. And then, I thought, what made me so ready to receive (and then give) that advice?

We all want “done” with what feels hard.

We make up dozens of micro-rules like this, ever-angling towards a neat and tidy, healed and whole life.

We feel squirmy with the unfinished.

It’s part of the incredible loneliness I’ve known a handful of times. When struggle lasts longer than the expected expiration, we tire of ourselves still in it, and quickly duck from others who we assume would tire of us. Whether another’s exasperation or our anticipation of it, loneliness takes root when we think, “surely none of us have patience for this.”

Could it be that our triumphalist mentality — so sure of the next breakthrough coming in the Lord — is generated more from our lack of ability (or desire) to “suffer long”than it does from the Bible’s narrative?

I’ve become leery these days of words like “breakthrough” and phrases like “I’m never going back” and “everything has changed” — not because I don’t think there are roads to Damascus yet again, but because they are the miraculous exception, not the norm. They are the rare interregnum in a life lived steadily in one direction, growing in inches, not feet.

I’m leery because I wonder if some of that reach for the “breakthrough” reveals our discomfort with staying in pain and tension (the pain that often disciples a life) more than it illustrates the heart of God … who let His people wait hundreds of years on a promise.

Something about staying in a place longer than we want makes us shudder at the ghosts of all the things we want to avoid, ignore, not face. So we slap a spiritual phrase on it and pray for the new day, the breakthrough, the shift – giving all of our energy to when we get to leave behind what’s hard.

I often wonder about the person leaving the prayer meeting, after so many prayed for his freedom from debilitating headaches or her healing from infertility or her relief from her auto-immune flare, who wakes up the next day with the same symptoms. Does he or she have a category for “not yet” as not merely “not yet” but instead a key component to developing deep spiritual roots — a necessary part of discipleship?

Learning to stay in what’s hard is the mark of substance. I write this and I cringe — it’s so easy to type and at times dreadfully painful to live.

The best husbands, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends are the ones that have learned the laborious but prolific practice of staying long (of long-suffering).

It’s a lost art, this ability to name the squirrely-ness and, rather than let it drive us to spiritualize the next-best thing, the shift around the corner, the big and better of God in our lives, we linger with it a little longer.

It’s the paradox of God. He saved the world in one weekend but also after thousands of years.

We serve the God of the new day, who also tarries.

I can spend a lifetime seeking the power of His hand or knowing, secretly but with familiarity, the rise and fall of His chest as He breathes.

If your new day didn’t come last week, perhaps it’s better that way.

{I write more frequently and more candidly and film some videos with Nate, as well, in my private writing space, SOAR.}

Until next month,