"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 4:7 NRSV
One of the reasons Advent is one of my favorite parts of the Liturgical calendar isn't just because it's a time of preparation for the birth of the Prince of Peace. It's also a time for reflection on the nearly finished year and what to hope for in the future.
This has been a tremendously hard year for me. I've dealt with a car accident, struggles in school, shaken faith, damaged mental health, and worsening physical health. I've lost friends, I've had my heart shattered and re-shattered. However, in these difficult times, I've also been incredibly blessed with good friends, supportive mentors, and little reminders here and there that God has put people and situations in my life to help me through the trials in my path.
2017 has been hard for so many and many are praying for a better year in 2018 as am I. We living in a divided country where brother has turned on brother over politics, social awareness, worldviews, and other important issues. We live in a broken world that has been tested with natural disasters, wars and the rumors of wars, and human suffering in so many ways. We live in uncertain times and sometimes the future feels bleak. There are so much anger and hatred that fills our streets, Facebook, conversation in the classroom, and over our dinner tables. There are times where I look up to the dark sky and ask God why the world is the way it is and why we act the way we do. During that prayer, I felt His impression on my heart that said: "What do you think needs to happen for those things to change?"
This took in late November and Advent was just around the corner. My church released an image of a list of words for Advent with every day being assigned one word to reflect on all day. The more I looked at the list and read each word, the more I noticed that certain words were jumping out at me. Words that I needed to spend more time reflecting and seeing that those words were lacking in myself and that I think is lacking in the world today. My hope for 2018 is that believers and non-believers alike may reflect on, embrace and apply such words as we work to improve not only our own circumstances and the global circumstances. All of the words on the list are wonderful but the words that convicted and edified me: Awaken, Heal, Mend, Focus, Renew, and Believe. This is my hope for 2018...
My hope is that we will awaken. We will awaken to our purposes, we will awaken to the plight of others beyond this time when we think of each other as "fellow travelers to the grave and not creatures bound for other journeys (A Christmas Carol)". My hope is that our love for each other will awaken even during these troubling times. If we awaken for others and a desire to serve others regardless of sectarian differences, the world may be all the better for it. To quote the Psalmist David, "Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn (Psalm 108:2)".
In a time of pain, fear, and heartbreak, my hope is that we will find a way to heal. So many of us have been wounded physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally by our lives' circumstances and by others, often people we thought we could trust. Even though some of the wounds become scars or callouses, we often haven't healed from them but have become numbed. This is one of my weaknesses. I've allowed callouses to develop but I never took the time to face my traumas, to deal with the pain. I only ever tried to take it on the chin and soldier on. One of the hardest lessons I learned this year is that I can't keep burying the pain, one day I must have the courage to face it and trust God to heal me. My hope is that I will trust God's promise to His children: "I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them an abundance of prosperity and security (Jeremiah 33:6)".
As we heal from all the wounds we have gained from a variety of circumstances, my hope is that we will reach out to those who we have hurt and help mend their broken hearts. I know I have a few people that I have hurt and need to make amends. In the past two years we as a nation have ripped each other apart over differences in political platforms: Trump Supporters vs Hillary Supporters, Conservatives vs Liberals, Religious vs Atheists, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, etc. Facebook has become a war zone where we tap a few keys and submit hateful and hurtful comments towards people we disagree with, often using words that we wouldn't dream of saying to the individual in person. I've had it happen to me and to my deep shame, I have done it to others. Friendships have ended over such disagreements and words have been used that can never be taken back. My hope is that we may remember even during heated moments that we are brothers and sisters that love each other and would do anything for each other. At the end of the day, all we have is each other and I for one will do my best to never let a difference of opinion or belief make me forget that. After all, we were created by a God who has forgiven us for a multitude of sins: "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14)".
Whether it is relationships, friendships, self, health, academic goals, faith, or New Year resolutions, my hope is that we focus. Focus on ourselves to stay healthy, self-aware so we can grow, feel the glow of achieving a goal. Focus on our friends and family so that we can support them, love them, help them through life's sorrows and celebrate their joys. I hope that instead of dwelling on the past, I might find the energy to focus on the future. In May, I'll be achieving a goal I've been working towards for nearly 10 years- a Bachelor of Arts in History and Christian Ministry. I hope that I'll make an extra effort to focus on keeping myself healthy instead of constantly pushing and punishing myself. I hope to focus on God so that I might have a better relationship with my Master and loving Creator. Paul advised us in Philippians: "Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but I focus on this one thing: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)".
Many of us are familiar with the metaphor of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Transcendence, resurrection, and complete recovery from the ashes of adversity. To rise from the ashes is to renew after a blow whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. As we heal from any of our wounds, make amends, focus on what is important, my hope is that we will renew ourselves in the achievement. My hope is that we will renew ourselves, our relationship with each other and with God. As the ashes of 2017 fall around us, may 2018 see us rising from those ashes for a renewal of life. As I enter 2018 I pray: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10)".
In a world full of anger, doubt, and despair it is so easy to lose faith to lose hope. My hope is that we will overcome the darkness and simply believe. Believe that even in these dark times, there is a power that knows what will happen and is in control. I hope that we can learn to believe in ourselves, our neighbors, even those whom we don't agree with. By believing that things can and will get better, we aren't sticking our heads in the sand and living in denial. One thing that the history of our species proves time and time again is even during dark and dangerous times, there is a new dawn full of hope and light. We are a species of endurance and sometimes I think we let life and world events deprive us of our "grit". If so, we can regain our courage and our ability to endure but we must first believe that it can be done and that those who support us have our backs. I believe in God. I believe in His only begotten son Jesus Christ and that Christ has saved me from eternal death by dying on the cross for all of us and taking our sins upon Him when he had no sin. I honestly don't know if I'd even be alive today without that knowledge. In times of trouble, I take solace from Paul's words to the Romans: "For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame (Romans 10:10-11)”.
I've never been one for resolutions, but one thing Advent taught me was that there are worthwhile resolutions that have nothing to do with my weight, my income, or my worldly goods. As I hope for all of us to awaken, heal, mend, focus, renew, and believe... I also want to make these words my resolution for 2018 so that a year from now not only will I be able to reflect and say that I have not only improved my lot and perspective but that I was able to help others in their journey. To all of my friends and family-please take with you my love and prayers for a blessed year. To all of my fellow travelers to the grave, please take my good wishes and hopes as you enter this new year. Happy New Year 2018 and as my favorite Irish song concludes:
"Good night and joy be to you all!"