By Lori Harding
The beginning of a New Year brings the hope of renewal, a fresh start, and clean slate. That is what I used to think. However, the ball has dropped, the tinsel is fading, and celebrations are over. The new year is here and things have not changed. I guess I have lived a few more years and I am more realistic these days. I now know that January 1st is significant only because it’s January 1st. In other words, it is simply a date on the calendar. It only appears rosier because it is the first day of a new year.
Happy New Year?
A friend recently commented that she would like to cut last year out of her past. It was an incredibly difficult year for her. Maybe that is your story. It is definitely mine. I specifically remember thinking at the beginning of the year that it was going to be a year of transformation, change, good things, and brighter outcomes. As the year went on, I realized things were still hard. A troubled marriage plagued my husband and me. Although we had some help along the way, things had not changed all that much. It was five days before Christmas, and he left.
I woke up the next morning and asked myself; “did that really happen?” As the day went by, I came to terms with the truth. My husband was gone. Now what? I was in shock, angry, sad, and confused. I was overwhelmed facing Christmas alone. I was in a fog yet I had to rearrange schedules and make alternate plans. I was humbled as I thought about having to tell family and friends. As the days went by and I had to face the new year I thought, what is so happy about a new year? My life is a mess. My situation had not improved this year; it actually exploded before my very eyes. Can there be anything good about the coming new year?
Death and Resurrection
As the days turned into weeks, God met me in my pain. Comforting and consoling, yes. Teaching and revealing, definitely. What I wanted was an easy way out. What I hoped for was ten speedy steps to restoring my marriage. What I was banking on was a quick fix and a painless way out. What I learned is God’s love for me is far greater than I had imagined. He knows what is best because he created my very being. I would have settled for far less. But God, infinite in wisdom knew what our marriage needed most – a death and a resurrection. A marriage improvement program does not help when two people are gasping for air. A few pointers and tips on how to have a great marriage sound good, but offer no lasting solution for sin wrecked souls bent on selfish desires. The only lasting and transformative solution is what only God can provide – newness of life. It is the same for all of us. It is what we all need. Our problem is not that we have merely made a few mistakes and need a little help. We have not just strayed a bit. Our miseries are not a result of getting a few things wrong. If we were merely sick, a prescription would be in order. However, our dilemma is far more serious. We are dead. New life is what we need (Eph 1:4-5). This is God’s work. By grace, he enters our lives. He descends into the mess and the grit of our sin-ravaged hearts breathing new life out death.
God killed our old marriage and raised it to newness of life. It was the only way. It was not without a fight. Day by day God was ripping the flesh off our bones and calling each of us to lay down our pride, our selfish desires, and our old ways of blame shifting, isolating, and defending. Week by week God showed us the uselessness of trying to get our own way and the utter loneliness and despair that protecting our own egos brought.
The Tension of This New Life
It would be easy to end this story right here. To leave you with the impression that everything is fine now. Isn’t that the typical “Christian testimony”?
“This bad thing happened. God intervened and now everything is fine – praise God, Hallelujah! The End.”
The problem is that it is not the end. In the words of the famed radio broadcast journalist Paul Harvey: “And here’s the rest of the story”.
We are still sinners. We still sin. We both act out our selfish desires and defend our positions believing we are right. We are both good at it too! It could easily overwhelm our guilt-ridden hearts if we believed that somehow we are now supposed to get it all right. Many Christians believe that. However, it is not what the Bible teaches. We will always struggle with sin. That is why we need Jesus. If I could live perfectly I would not need Christ. You see, the Christian life is not the story of Christ rescuing us from a sinful past and bringing us into a perfect life. It is the story of Christ rescuing us from death and making us alive in him. Our struggle with sin is ongoing while we are on this earth, but now Christ is our defense. His death has saved us from eternal punishment and present guilt and condemnation. My husband and I still struggle. We mess up and say I am sorry. We blame shift, self defend, and then we fall once again into the arms of Jesus who loves us without condition.
Happy New Year Reveals A Deeper Longing
As the new year unfolds, I don’t think about the happiness of it all. Instead, what presses in on my heart is a deeper longing, a longing for newness. The new year causes me to contemplate what heaven on earth will be like. It causes me to anticipate Christ’s return. We just celebrated God’s incarnation in the birth of his son, Jesus. That promised King is coming back again, and when he does, he will make all things new and wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4).
Lori Harding is married with one son. She is on staff with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as their Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support. She writes for The Good News FL and LIBERATE.net, seeking to connect the gospel to the everyday realities of life. She blogs at Set Free and you can follow her on twitter at @lorilharding.
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