New year … same you {when the line between a new year is blurry}

Several days in, this new year has felt less like the turning of a page and more like a run-on sentence. Shouldn’t there be a period somewhere in here?

I’d like to demarcate an ending and declare a new beginning, but only the calendar tells me it’s so. It feels a bit like September 22nd — the calendar telling me it’s fall while my bare feet burn on the pavement in 93 degrees.

Sometimes, the new year only reminds me of what hasn’t changed and my propensity to lean towards a new-year-new-you-new-start-the-breakthrough perspective.

But why?

In an earlier season of our lives, Nate and I were introduced to concepts about God that felt alluring. Enticing. They matched scripture, had scripture to back them (a must for us), and were full of promise. If we followed these tenets, these absolutes, surely just around the corner was life and hope and wide, never-ending horizons. Who wouldn’t want those?

No, this wasn’t the prosperity gospel; we knew to avoid that. These concepts included shadow references of suffering and struggle, but the thumping heartbeat was victory. Ever-always victory. And a “right” way of living that excluded ones who didn’t subscribe … who didn’t “get it.” We were all in. (Mostly.)

And we were twenty-five.

Our twenties were the decade of thriving, reaching, and aspiring. In our twenties, we set goals, cast vision, and quietly judged those who lived quiet and seemingly inconsequential lives. We didn’t call our heart posture elitism, but we lived as the elite, having discovered secret truths about God that held the keys to near-perfect clarity about navigating all of life.

Though we’ve lived enough life between then and now to reveal a God of story and mystery and paradox and nuance (all things not available during a life when the thumping heartbeat is victory, always and now), when the new year turns I can find those old grooves in the road, unthinking. Surely, the promise of leaving behind the old, constraining, limiting ways is attractive.

Even if you hadn’t traveled the ideological paths I have, I suspect I’m not alone.

What is the “same” that you brought into the new year? 

New year …

… same difficult person in your life

… same challenging church situation

… same loneliness

… same ailing parent or ailing child

… same paycheck (just a bit more padding from the Christmas cash your mother-in-law gave you)

… same leak in the roof or leak in your car radiator

… same job that drains you or child that drains you or spouse that drains you

… same sickness you had last year

Of course, if you carry that same into your new year, you (like me) might be predisposed to reach for some kind of thinking — any kind of thinking — that offers a way out. Any way out.

But the problem is that we subtly (often accidentally) craft theologies around victory that leave little room for the lanky ten-year-old boy who lived 23 more years before he walked on that water.

So, can we name it: it feels like lame resignation to show up for a God who waited four hundred years to reveal Himself. Soooo, we put a shiny foil on that and the new year is the perfect time to imagine that all the old will — poof! — disappear. Who wouldn’t want a Disney-reality, that if you just believe, your old limits and restrictions and restraints — your old ceiling — will disappear?

Except … except …

… if there is something to be had in following the God who made His own human frame to need seven hours of sleep and three meals a day — a savior who got hungry and burped and bled — perhaps we’d forfeit the shiny foil and reach for something much more lasting.

Friends, your new year with the same you and the same limitations can absolutely be … new. 

(Just maybe not in the way you thought.)

We spend untold amounts of energy waiting, interceding, watching for the crossing over — the breakthrough — and forget that Jesus saved the world the same weekend His skin split open.

Perhaps the new of this year isn’t that your wayward child returns home (keep praying for that!) or you finally get invited into the next tier of leadership at your church or your company — that you’re finally seen for what you can do — but instead that you find your breath and your voice and your song (that you find God), right in the middle of the most confining and infuriating part of your life.

The older I get, the smaller my life becomes. My travel radius in a day or a year, my fully alert and energetic waking hours, my productivity, my accomplishments, the number of gourmet meals I cook or parties I host are decreasing … gah, I’m even losing my eyebrows. That list may make you depressed, or it may make you feel not alone. And, perhaps, hopeful because … as my life has gotten tighter, smaller, and more confined, my heart, my understanding of being wildly loved by God, and my confidence in that love has grown notably larger. Exponentially larger.

My days are small. My life felt more confined this past year than ever, yet my internal life feels full … of promise.

His skin with scars and once-pimples and tan lines was a part of the story. Similarly, your too-small paycheck and your sick parent and your struggling spouse are a part of the most painful, marvelous paradox.

Happy New Year (same you), friends.

{And because this is bubbling up inside of me — because I’m living what I just wrote here, real time — I wrote a separate email series for those of you who want a few-weeks’ run through in finding the marvelous part of that painful and joyful paradox of the limited life. It’s free. You can sign up here to read more like this and get a few videos from me in your inbox.}

Until next time,