The December 31st Mindset
My 2016 was a mess, to say the least. Every January 1st I promise myself that this year, it’ll be my year. It’ll be the year I get my life together and become the person I want to be. And yet, every December 31st I find myself disappointed in my own inadequacy and the choices I made during that year. I’m disappointed that I can’t see the growth I thought God would give me that year, and confused as to why my static faith continued while I watched tragedy after tragedy strike.
I, as every other flawed and sinful human being on the planet, have never had a perfect year (or a perfect day, for that matter). However, in some ways, 2016 was my least perfect year yet (perhaps it has to do with growing up). I found myself on December 31st looking back at two best friendships that somehow got lost in translation, yet another summer of pointless and and tedious work, two semesters filled with unnecessary anxiety and stress, and most of all, an aching, broken heart. December 31st becomes a day of great discouragement and regret.
I don’t fully believe in New Year’s resolutions, because January 1st is the same as any other day; if God’s mercies are new every morning, do we expect them to be somehow newer on this certain day of the year? However, I do think that January 1st is a concrete way to “start over” in a sense; a way to prepare our hearts for something new and different. Though it’s just a date, January 1st brings a kind of hope that maybe God will work differently in our lives this year — maybe finally he’ll give us what we’ve been begging for! Maybe we’ll make lots of money, have flourishing friendships, get that new car we’ve been pining for, mend our relationships with our in-laws, finally stop stressing out about useless things. However, there is such a tragic flaw in this view — maybe if we get what we want, then we’ll be happy.
It is so easy to subconsciously morph our viewpoint into, “What can I get from God?” What if we instead looked at our upcoming year with the idea of “What can I give to God?” This changes everything in the way we see our past and our present. James 4:14-15 says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”
My main regrets from year to year — and I’ve only had twenty — involve pain that I wish I could’ve avoided or sticky situations for which I’d like to blame God. However, as sinful humans we ache for a renewal, a cleansing, a change that cannot be found in a perfect year or a perfect life. It is so ironic that on January 1st we yearn for a perfect year in hopes that it will bring us the renewal we do desperately desire, for renewal cannot come about without pain coming first. There is no glory given to God in a perfect, cookie-cutter, Pharisee-like life; Jesus came to save the imperfect. The more desperately we need him, the more powerful our relationship with him becomes.
So I thank God for imperfect years and for pain, because without them, I would never have felt mercy. If my years had played out as I planned them, I would never have felt God lift me out of the deepest hole and bring renewal to my soul.
I challenge you to open yourself up to blind faith this year. Preparing yourself for renewal requires an open heart and a trusting spirit. Being ready for change is terrifying; it means giving all of your plans and dreams for the upcoming year to God. It means declaring “the Lord reigns!” and letting that be the answer to every doubt and every fear. What if we looked back on December 31st and saw God working in the sticky situations, present in the trauma, at our sides during the stress? What if we realized that he is truly renewing us day by day? We shouldn’t be looking for a “new start” or a renewal at the beginning of a new year, but every single morning. The book of Lamentations, one whose title is remarkably telling, reads, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 3:22-23).
Renewal doesn’t come in big chunks; it sinks into our lives slowly and unnoticed. Your 2016 and every other year was full of God’s renewing, beautiful love changing you behind the scenes. The “new and improved you” that you long for at the beginning of each year is already in God’s hands. So being ready for renewal does not mean making a list of things to change about yourself and your life, but simply asking God, “How can I glorify you?” Through acts of praise and glorification, and through times of pain and sorrow, God renews. No mistakes that you’ve made are too great; they are already being forgiven and you are already being healed.
This year I lost two of the people I loved most in the world. I lost trust in God. I lost myself. But God is showing me who I am again. He is showing me how his beautiful healing is worth the pain, how the things he took away from me were simply distracting me from him and from the person I wanted to be.
Give in to the belief that you are transformed daily, and challenge yourself to believe that the unplanned circumstances are simply the renewal you’ve prayed for in disguise. Give up the person you think you have to be, and you will find the person you want to be in the arms of Christ.