My December was rough. And based on what I heard from several friends, family members, and social media connections, I was not alone.
As I was dealing with sickness, frozen pipes, a broken vacuum and a deep freezer on the fritz the day before company was coming, I was reading messages and posts about similar situations for what seemed like everyone I know. Hospitalizations, unexpected bills, travel plans canceled by weather, and even funerals.
The end of the year was hard for a lot of us.
The beauty of the end of the year, though, is that it’s the end. Right? We’re finishing projects, crossing days off the calendar, making it through exams and deadlines, and wondering when is too early to take back our house from the Christmas clutter (or, conversely, deciding to leave up those twinkly lights because they’re cozy and that’s enough reason for you). The end of the year often brings a mingling of joy and grief, but no matter what your circumstance, it brings hope.
Hope of a new year. Hope of another chance. Hope of a fresh start.
More than once, I’ve found myself saying something like, “Here’s to a new year (may it be better than the last one)!” Sometimes the hope of a new beginning is the thing we desperately need to help us endure a hard season.
So, the end of the year was rough, but of course I survived. I survived — for a few moments I may have even thrived — and then January came with its new planner, prepped lunches, and a plan to plug in my treadmill again. My January even came with a new job, so I had all the expectations in the world that this year would! be! different!
I felt so optimistic until the moment I received a phone call, making it clear that 2023 would be the same as last year, that nothing had changed, that “new year, new us” was a big bag of lies.
(As you see, I went from hopeful to hopeless real fast.)
I hung up the phone and threw it on the couch, crying out loud, “Why, God?!! I thought we were past this! I thought things were better! Why is this still happening?” I looked at my calendar and wondered how God could break His promises for fresh mercies, for clean starts, for a new year to mean a new life, a new reality, a new everything.
Spoiler alert: God did not break His promises. He never has and He never will.
My confusion came from my misunderstanding of those promises, perhaps a bit willfully as I tried to twist God’s Word into a guarantee of earthly goodness. I know better. But that didn’t stop me from plucking a few verses out of the Bible and clinging to them for what I wanted, rather than what is true.
Perhaps you’ve fallen prey to this temptation too? Maybe you’ve suffered through a painful season, treading water and grabbing anything that looks like it might keep you afloat. Maybe you’ve felt so weary and worn down that analyzing the Bible and remembering what you’ve studied and learned in that past truly is too hard. Or maybe you’ve looked squarely at Scripture and simply not liked what you saw.
That’s pretty much where I was in January, wiping tears off my face and wondering where God was and why He wasn’t doing what I wanted and needed and expected. But like the patient heavenly Father that He is, God didn’t roll His eyes at my tantrum or ignore me until I got myself under control.
No, He gently reminded me of the exact words of those scriptures I’d been clinging to and asked me to look at them again.
“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”
“For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland…
Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my chosen people can be refreshed.”
See what it says? God’s mercies begin fresh each morning, and He makes rivers in the desert. Yes, praise Him for that!
But it turns out God didn’t promise to reverse our loss or even to end our suffering; He promises never ending mercy and faithfulness. And it turns out God didn’t promise to pull us out of the desert — He declares He will provide water to refresh us while we’re there. As Jesus said in John 16:33, we’re gonna have troubles in this world. But He is stronger than the world and He will be with us through all those troubles.
When I flipped open my new planner on January 1, my life didn’t magically improve. My daughter is still sick, my marriage is still hard, my finances are still a mess, and I even found myself coughing and sniffling again just like I was in December. Everything about my life and this world is the same as it was last year — and that includes the Lord.
When this new year feels a lot like the old year, remember that this is actually a gift. It’s not evidence of a broken promise; it’s the fulfillment. God is faithful and true to every one of His promises. So just like last year and the year before that and the year before that, He is with us. He loves us, He cares for us, and He will never leave us alone. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.