2023: A New Beginning
It dawned on me writing the above title that it is redundant, for the beginning of something inherently implies newness. It may suggest “new” in reference to what has never been before: a new baby; a new marriage; a new car. Or it may refer to a new phase, form or alteration of what previously existed: turn over a new leaf; “we have a ‘new ballgame!’”; a new lease on life; etc.
On one hand, today (1/1/23) is just a new 24-hour period; we have 365/366 of these in a year. But there is a special significance, at least in our minds, to “New Year’s Day,” the day that increases our year number. While this may be an artificial distinction, it is not to be dismissed. Humans are keenly aware that life in earth is a finite span, and that span shortens with every day that passes – which in itself is not so noticeable but is glaringly obvious when we check off another year.
It is almost compulsory to reflect on the year that has just passed and think about the year ahead – if by God’s grace we live it in full. We read about prominent people who died in 2022, and we make resolutions, either privately or announced to others, for the new year. We reflect on the natural calamities of the bygone year, and we read the prognostications from Farmer’s Almanac for 2023. We perhaps look back on momentous changes in our lives that occurred in 2022 and wonder, perhaps even fret over, what 2023 holds.
So, how would you characterize 2022 from your own perspective? Undoubtedly, there were challenges along the way. How would you characterize them? Were they foreseeable or totally out of the blue? Did you miss the signs of a coming storm? Or were they self-inflicted, brought on by poor choices or idealistic thinking that ignored reality? Have you examined the things that happened to you in 2022 with a view to learning lessons, gaining wisdom, accepting your limitations and learning about others in your orbit? All of us make mistakes; all of us face obstacles; all of us are, as we say, “works in progress.” What makes last year worthwhile – whatever it held – is the takeaway. Has last year, with both its ups and downs, made you a better person?
This is my 65th New Year’s Day, several of which I was too young to remember. Here are some things I have observed through these annual resets:
People have short memories. No matter how bad things may be, when they pass, we tend to quickly erase them from our minds – for better or for worse – and move on. Think, for example, of the people of Judah in the days just before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians (Jer 34). The situation was dire; all the fortified cities of Judah had fallen except Lachish and Azekah (34:7). Chaos and fear gripped the nation, from King Zedekiah to the impoverished of Judah who had been unlawfully taken as slaves by their own brethren. Thus “when all the princes and all the people … heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves, that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go” (34:10).
Not long after this, the Babylonians temporarily withdrew from Jerusalem to meet the approaching Egyptian army from the southwest (cf. 34:21-22; 37:5, 11-15). During this lull in the siege, the nobles of Judah reneged on the covenant to free their slaves and laid claim to them again (34:15-16).
Such reactionary thinking is one of the main reasons we don’t grow in wisdom and spiritual stature as we should. We must not focus on our faults only in the midst of crisis, for when the crisis passes it is easy to fall back into the old status quo. Instead, we should evaluate ourselves regularly as we learn more of God’s will through personal study, Bible classes, sermons, articles, discussions with others and as we make application of these things to the deficiencies of our character.
Many worry overmuch about the future. It is a blessing that God has shrouded the future in impenetrable darkness, for if we could clearly foresee the illnesses, accidents, injustices, deaths, etc. that were to befall us or our loved ones, who among us could retain our sanity? God has so arranged things that the material universe – including us – exist in an ever-present passing moment. With every thought, every breath, every word, every thought, every action, another moment in time passes, only to be replaced by the next fleeting moment. Thus our existence flows by and becomes an unrecoverable relic of history; it can be reflected on but it can’t be relived. Life isn’t like filming a movie; scenes cannot be shot and reshot until the actors, lighting, sound effects all align perfectly. No do-overs; no second takes; no editing to make a perfect, seamless life.
On the other end of the spectrum, we can’t experience the National Championship game or the Super Bowl yet. They are sequestered in the inscrutable future which may or may not allow January 9 and February 12 to materialize. Rather than agonize over the troublesome things that may occur in 2023, thus depriving ourselves of the peace and joy of the present, the better course is to “not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:31-34).
The antidote to worry is not burying our head in the sand and pretending that all is peachy. Rather, it is magnifying God in our hearts so that impending trouble fades into insignificance by the glory and power of our Savior and King.
Time seems to accelerate as we age. As the anticipated future of youth gives way to the reality of middle age, we become so busy living life that time seems to pass in a blur. We aren’t the first to recognize this: “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Ps 90:10). A resolution for all of us in 2023: S-l-o-w d-o-w-n, meditate and pray more, notice the details of your life, pay attention to your family, friends and brethren. Don’t overbook your life; learn to say “no” and focus on what really matters. The clock is ticking – fast.