Everybody I know is posting and tweeting cheery “Happy New Year!” messages, but this post isn’t for them.
It’s for those of you who are downtrodden and overwhelmed, overcome and out of gas. The holidays are over and now it’s time to tighten the widening belt/get rid of clutter/organize the homeschool room/put up decorations/cook black-eyed peas/begin reading the Bible in a year plan/fillintheblank. Those are all resolutions I’ve seen scrolling across my screen. To tell the truth, I am exhausted. Rather than fill me with excitement about a fresh start, the new year tends to remind me of my past failings to the point where I want to crawl under the covers and not come out until spring.
I hate winter. The appearance of death is everywhere I look. Somewhere down deep where we can’t see, the grass and the trees and hydrangeas and hibiscus are alive, waiting for the day when the sun shines enough to coax new growth out of old, hardened, battle-worn bark. A flicker of life is waiting to emerge. Sometimes I wonder where the little flicker of life inside my own shriveled soul has gone.
Did it bleed out when I thoughtlessly purchased food at the grocery store without really having a plan about what to feed my family, resulting in me throwing out a ton of expired cans of food just days after I participated in an event for the homeless?
Maybe that flicker died out when I was asked deep questions about my faith that I just couldn’t answer, and I suddenly felt bereft, adrift on a lonely island with ground that I thought was rock turned into swirling sand. Did God create Satan? If so, why? Did he create hell? If God knew Eve was going to succumb to Satan, why did he put the tree in the garden in the first place? After all, when my child was young and innocent I did not leave dangerous, deadly items lying around for her to be tempted to use. Yet Jesus assures me that my heavenly Father knows what I need and will provide for all my needs, just as a parent would not give a rock to a child who asks for a fish.
I call my own bluff. There’s a description of me in the Bible, and it isn’t a flattering one. At the end of his life, while waiting impending execution by the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote a second letter to Timothy, who had taken over Paul’s ministry. In referring to the last days, he wrote:
2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. 6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3)
It’s not a very pretty list, is it? Yet there have been times this past year/month/day/hour that I have been a lover of myself and a lover of money and the stuff it can buy. I’ve been boastful about my child and arrogant about my beliefs. I’ve questioned whether or not the writings of Paul should be valued as high as the writings elsewhere in the Bible — questioning which my evangelical friends would probably say makes me a blasphemer. While I’m no longer disobedient to my parents, I am frequently disobedient to others in authority, as happens every time I get in my car and drive five miles an hour over the speed limit.
Rather than being grateful for my blessings and for all that is wonderful and good in our world, I’ve been ungrateful, thinking instead of what I do not have (a life in Florida) rather than what I do (a roof over my head). I had unholy and unloving thoughts towards the man who sat beside me today at the movie theater — he was crunching popcorn in the loudest possible way, making it difficult for me to understand what was being said.
There’s also what feels like an irreconcilable wall thrown up in a relationship that I just don’t know how to scale — and that I don’t know that I want to scale. I’ve spoken slanderous words about people I don’t even know personally — such as certain world leaders who deserve more of my prayers than my derision. My self-control is often absent, especially when it comes to filtering the words that come out of my mouth. Savage? Well, I haven’t gone all Jeffrey Dahlmer or anything, but I have had such intense anger that SAVAGE is an apt description of the cutting words that have slashed my loved ones. And, on occasion, my dogs.
Opposed to what is good. What is good? Depends on who you ask. Is it good to allow governmental agencies access to our every conversation in the name of national security? Is it good to welcome gay people and divorceés and homeless people into the church? Is it good to lend a helping hand to the drug addict? Is it good to shop at Wal-Mart in order to save a little money on the family budget knowing that the people in other countries worked in sweat shops at wages that barely allow them to eat ?
Treacherous and reckless aren’t usually adjectives ascribed to overly cautious me, but some would say my choice to homeschool through high school is both reckless and treacherous. Am I ruining and betraying my daughter by keeping her out of public education?
Conceited. Am I excessively proud of myself? Depends. I’m proud of my writing abilities. I’m proud of my daughter. I’m proud of my husband. And I like my long hair — probably too much. I’d cry if I had to cut it or if it all fell out. But cooking? Absolutely not.
Do I love pleasure more than loving God? Hmmm….I certainly love avoiding pain. What does loving God look like? Am I loving Him through the mundane, praying without ceasing, offering praise in all circumstances? Nope. Not.At.All. Instead I wallow here on the couch curled up with a heating pad for my aching bloat and dreaming about being elsewhere (like, in Florida!) rather than being here smack dab in the middle of cold misery.
Do I maintain the outward appearance of religion? Probably not much anymore. We don’t have a church home. I haven’t been blogging about faith. My thoughts about faith have more to do with questioning these days than answering.
I’m definitely the weak woman who is always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth, running after new ideas, new curriculums, new opinions, new ways of thinking, only to abandon them when the next new idea/curriculum/opinion/way of thinking comes along. I’m coming to realize that I don’t have an independent thought in my head. I parrot things that others say. If I ever write anything profound, you can bet it likely came from someone else.
All this to say that I’m feeling like giving up even before this year has really gotten started. Looking at the long laundry list of my sins is unpleasant and depressing. I know I am saved but I sure do need to start acting like it. If I can figure out what that looks like, I’ll let you know.
In the meantime the flicker of life deep inside me is still there hidden underneath all this dead wood and scaly winter skin. If I didn’t believe in God then I wouldn’t even be stressing over words that Paul — a man — wrote two thousand years ago. I know all this and yet I am still smarting. And then I think of what Jesus — God’s Son (way more worthy of being followed than Paul, IMO) said to those who repent:
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” (Matthew 11)
I need that promised rest but have so many sins wrapped up in who I am as a person that I really have to just repent of being me.
Praying those of us who feel overwhelmed and overworked today at the thought of this coming year will find that rest for our souls that Jesus offers. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather learn from on this introspective day!