A lot can happen in a year, can’t it? It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone. In the same way that September marks the wistful end of summer and the beginning of a new year for students going back to school, this time of year also beckons pause to reflect on the year gone by and to wonder about the one before us. As I think back on this year, many memories come to mind. There are often distinct tensions in these moments: the ordinary and extraordinary, joyous and challenging, heart-warming and heart-wrenching. In Henri Nouwen’s book Creative Ministry, he says, “Celebration can really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together.”
This is true of my own experience.
I think of long hours studying, where my mind would buzz with excitement over a new discovery or when a quote in a book would deeply resonate with me. These hours could also be described as agony when I would struggle to understand a concept or when perseverance felt like an insurmountable summit.
I think of my younger sister’s wedding this summer. It had a dream-like quality to it. I felt great joy in the moments of anticipation and giddiness, witnessed the magic in their love, and appreciated the support of family and friends. It was also a time of grieving for me. I cried looking at childhood photos and again when writing my speech, wondering how our relationship would change and mourning her movement into a new season while I remained in the same one.
I think of a trip I took to stay with a family who has been like a second family to me. Our time together felt like coming home, with much laughter, outdoor adventures, and meaningful conversations that reminded me how well they know me. That week was also painful as I witnessed some of their challenges, becoming aware of how there is so much beyond our control and how fragile life really is.
I think too of my relationship with God this year. There were times when he felt so near, and my understanding of his love and grace deepened. Moments when I would read Scripture and need to keep coming back to it all day because it was nourishment to my soul. There were situations where I would sense the Spirit’s prompting and have the courage to act on it. I remember Sundays with our church family when I would feel the pleasure of God upon us as we brought ourselves to him in wholehearted worship.
There were also darker times in my relationship with God this year. Some days he felt distant, and I could not sense his presence. I often lacked motivation to read my Bible and pray. Sometimes I would sense the Spirit’s prompting and would choose to not do anything about it. Admittedly, there were certain Sundays when I would half-heartedly come to church, barely able to sing the songs, and would leave right away afterwards.
As I’ve been thinking more about the tensions we experience in life, I have realized that this is the Gospel story we are invited into. The birth of Jesus, the King, was amazingly significant, but he was born in a lowly manger to parents not even married. He performed many miracles, faithfully taught his disciples and crowds of people, and was in close communion with his Father. At the same time, he was misunderstood, mocked, betrayed by his friends, faced loneliness, and even felt distant from his Father. We see this tension with his death and resurrection as well. Jesus experienced unimaginable suffering, disgust from humanity, and separation from his Father, the worst death of all deaths. And yet, this was all for the ultimate hope of giving us eternal life: a precious gift of freedom that Christ wanted to give us.
So, as you reflect on this past year and look ahead to the next, I pray that you would be willing to sit in the tensions you find yourself. May we come to God in all of the joy and sorrow, fear and love, delight and pain of the year past, and as we anticipate the new year, see that this is precisely the story we are invited into as God’s sons and daughters.
Liz grew up on a hobby farm in Maple Ridge, BC with bears, deer, and too many sandy hot dogs. She currently studies at Regent College. She loves the youth of Redemption Church, her large, chaotic family, and playing pranks on unsuspecting people.