When we look back upon 2016, we’ll remember the ones we collectively lost – those whose artistry is etched into culture as we know it.
Looking back, perhaps we’ll recall the stock market’s wild ride when seemingly every day brought news of another plunge in investments.
We’ll think of how unsettled we felt when snow and ice storms suspended our regular and convenient ways of life.
We’ll recall the resolutions that stuck. And those that didn’t.
Perhaps we’ll remember our bewilderment as pundits interpreted every little shift in political polls. We’ll grow weary of the bickering and posturing as disillusionment creeps ever wider over the state of the union.
Maybe we’ll laugh at the Powerball hysteria when long lines wrapped around convenience stores and clutched people in a slim promise of instant windfall.
Memories from 2016. As I write, it’s only January.
These first 4 weeks of 2016 are marked with loss, uncertainty, regret, and disappointment.
Isn’t January hard enough as it is?
Looking out my kitchen window, I see outlines of houses on neighboring streets. I can’t see these homes in the prime of summer when the trees are clothed with leaves. But January, in its stark barrenness, helps me to observe what I didn’t notice before. I find it beautiful in a surprising sort of way.
But as a southern girl, I could do without winter, except for the week of Christmas. And metaphorically speaking, I was once not terribly fond of winter in the soul either, when loss strips life of love and abundance.
Although we generally know what to expect from January, most of us have lived enough to realize that while the cycles of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of life are sometimes not so. Even if the calendar says May, the soul may be experiencing the starkness of winter.
Each soul-season arrives by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package or with a party at midnight. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before. I find this impossible without faith to anchor the soul.
It was almost winter when my father died, and the change of seasons reflected my grieving heart. As the shock and immediacy of crisis faded, I settled into winter, and almost welcomed it as a contemplative, comforting friend. My faith that Daddy was freed from suffering and the hope that I will see him again allowed me to stay in the season. Winter of the soul can be stark yet sweet. Everything can be stripped away but as Jesus remains, we find that He has always been enough. I finally understood the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 which begins: “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” It was the first time I saw winter in a new way, when I saw everything in new way.
In The Listening Life, Adam McHugh describes the Creator’s wisdom behind the inward and outward cycles of life:
“The seasons relieve us from the pressure to put on the same face and act the same way all year round. It’s not always summer, and we don’t need to live like it is. Just as our wardrobe changes for the seasons, so do our emotional and spiritual lives. We can cycle through our own seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and quietness, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and being closed, austerity and abundance.”
And so, if January helps us to observe things we haven’t perceived before, we have a response to make. We can choose to grow numb. We can clinch our fists. Or we can listen to what January 2016 has to say. Is this all there is? In a world where the exemplars of earthly strength, security, and success are lost before our eyes, there has to be more.
Jesus articulated this with a succinct and piercing question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?”
These four short weeks in January teach us that in the barest parts of our beings, our souls know that our outward selves will eventually lose their grip on everything that mortal hands can grab. We need another anchor. It’s as if January, with its disillusionment, regret, and loss, has handed us a lenses through which eternity is unquestionably in focus. I see it as I look out my kitchen window at the houses I once couldn’t see in the heart of summer. I see it as I donate, divide, and discard my father’s earthly possessions. I see it as I read further in Ecclesiastes 3 and land on verse 11:
God has made everything beautiful in its time and has set eternity in the human heart.
The holy-inspired wisdom of Ecclesiastes teaches us that we are ever passing and repassing through seasons. There are times to dance and times to mourn, times to rejoice and times to weep. Yet we are constantly moving through this world, with its continual changes, toward an eternal existence. Now is the time to heed the inner stirring. It’s a sacred invitation to choose Christ who knew and loved and chose you before your first breath. He wants you to be with Him upon your last.
I look out my window, and through the bare trees, my heart sees Home.
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.