Happy New Year, my people! Are we over all the things that talk about New Year stuff yet? Well, suffer just this one more, if you don’t mind.
As this new year was approaching I was thinking of how using the New Year, the beginning of January, as a clear break in time, feels a bit artificial or forced. I mean what magical thing occurs that divides 2022 from 2023? Besides the world just saying something new and different is happening. We collectively decide we are starting fresh, although nothing has changed besides another normal setting and rising of the sun. Time is passing, surely. But in truth it’s passing like every other day. Today is a new start, just like the day before. All this passing time, everything seemingly staying the same and changing at once. All these days and months and years are bleeding into one another, blowing past in a blur, and dragging slowly forward. Nothing special, and yet full of things I know I want to mark as important. Kinda like when you ask a kid on their birthday morning if they feel any different than they did at bedtime the night before, January 1st doesn’t feel much different than December 31st. Why do we place so much pressure and emphasis on this new beginning?
Maybe it’s because we long for the hope of all things new. Our hearts are wired for restoration and renewal. We crave a second chance, a new life. So we love the opportunity to reset, or at least to dream that it’s possible. Whether we know what we are doing or not, we image bearers of God seek out ways to be like Him in the work of redeeming what was lost and repairing what is cracking apart. And so, we love the turning of the New Year, we celebrate it with gusto, we make resolutions, we strive for improvement, we fight hard to live out this New Year, New You mindset. At least for a few days.
Did you know that I hate setting goals? Being the glass half empty girl that I am, I like to set the bar low and avoid disappointment. If I don’t have something I’m officially shooting for, then I won’t be a failure. I can’t think of a single year that I actually set a New Year’s Resolution, even though in the back of my mind I always want to improve in general ways – love more, find hope, let go of unhealthy habits, don’t lose heart, get hurt/injured less, learn to rest. Some years I have tried new things, starting around the new year, adding some spiritual practice I think might be helpful, switching up my Bible reading habits, or maybe picking a word to focus on through the year as I read. Those things can be helpful, or they can feel like a burden, depending on where I am and how I’m doing.
Well, this is one of those years that I decided I would try to have a word or two to focus on. If you’re paying attention to the interwebs, a Word of the Year seems to have replaced making New Year’s Resolutions. So, I’m with that vibe and am super cool, or it could be that I’m jumping on the bandwagon. You can call it how you see it.
As the last few days of 2022 were speeding by, I was getting a lot of those end of the year book lists on my Instagram and Substack feeds. The books that really caught my attention were the ones that seemed to be dealing with the intersection of theology and art or theology and nature. The common theme that jumped out at me was wonder. And that’s how I settled on my Word #1 which is Wonder. I love that this word has multiple meanings. It can be a feeling of surprise mixed with adoration, or awe. It can be a curiosity or desire to know more about someone or something. But it can also be used in reference to feeling doubt or uncertainty. I want my life of faith to be characterized by wonder – I want a surprising admiration of who Jesus is as I encounter Him in the Word and in the world. I want a deep curiosity that longs to ask good questions of God, and about God, and of others (thank you Lore Wilburt. Y’all read her book A Curious Faith if you haven’t). And I want the courage to engage and address my doubts, not by dismissing them, but digging in to find the bedrock of Jesus underneath it all.
My Word #2 is Belonging. A few years ago I was struck by the verse Isaiah 44:5 that mentions that some will write “Belonging to the Lord” on their hands. Ever since then I have loved this descriptor and I think often of what it means to live as if I belong to the Lord. Belonging has also become an important word for me as I’ve gone through counseling. I am learning to trust that my belonging isn’t something I have to earn, especially with Jesus. My belonging is something I can trust and live into. It’s a reality that I have and receive, not a status that I have to work for by performing well. But I do get to live in ways that reflect or proclaim my belonging.
I chose these words individually, and love the deep meaning and purpose associated with them separately. But also, I love how when thought about together they can have an even greater impact. I can Wonder at my Belonging to Jesus – having a sense of utter surprise and delight and awe that He loves me and I can never be separated from that steadfast, faithful, eternal love. I can Wonder about my Belonging to Jesus – seeking to have a deeper understanding of what it means that I am His, that I represent Him as a minister of reconciliation in the world, or am a partaker of His grace so I can be a participant in His gospel, or am the hands and feet of Jesus to a world in desperate need of compassion and care. And when I Wonder if I am Belonging I can turn my questioning, unsure heart towards the One who has space for my doubts and fears, always.
My prayer for myself and for each of you for 2023 and beyond is that all of our whole selves, all of who we are, every bit of our emotional and spiritual and physical lives would be shaped by wonder and belonging. In our wondering about and wondering at and even in our wondering if – may our lives be full of curiosity and awe about the ways we can integrate our belonging to the Lord into our actual lives. May we be deeply interested in and astonished by Jesus and His redemption of our souls so that we can join in the work of His Kingdom. May our questioning and fascination lead us closer to Him and each other.
I would love to know if you have a Word for the Year or a New Year’s Resolution or a stubborn refusal to do any such thing.