2015 came in with a bit of a whimper for me. Or, maybe a sigh. Or an uncomfortable grunt. Whatever the metaphor, it wasn’t really an exuberant cry of celebration. It wasn’t even the half-hearted smile toward the shallow madness that attends the New Years spectacles on television that I am usually just able to muster. Oh look, it’s 2015 in Sydney… and Tokyo… and Moscow… and New York! They’re still ___ hours ahead of us, eh? Who would have thought? Oh look, all kinds of fireworks and celebrities and sugary pop music that is—against all odds!— even worse live than on the radio and breathless declarations about dreams coming true and about what the coming year will (probably not) hold.
In the end, 2015 arrived in precisely the manner that a bunch of other years arrived. And we raised our glasses and wished each other a Happy New Year! And I yawned and went to bed.
Perhaps my muted New Years reactions are merely the predictable effect of getting a bit older. 2015 will, inexplicably, be the year that I turn forty. Forty! When did that possibility sneak up on me?! But with age comes experience, and, maybe even a bit more wisdom. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ve seen life kick around people I love a bit, I’ve probably even been through a valley or two myself, I’ve tried and failed enough to know that this probably won’t be the year where I am suddenly and painlessly able to become the person that I wish I was (or that I think others wish I was). Indeed, anyone who has lived for a handful of decades and managed to keep their eyes even half-open, quickly discovers that the mindless optimism that attends our New Years celebrations year just doesn’t work. Rhetoric outruns reality.
Speaking of reality, in a brief New Years conversation with a friend we talked about just that. We talked about the year that was and the year that may be ahead. This friend did not have the greatest of 2014s —health challenges, a long, laborious adoption process that grinds fruitlessly along, etc.—but was hopeful, nonetheless, for the 365 days to come. I said that I, too, hoped that 2015 would bring better things for them. And what about you? my friend asked. What do you hope for? It was a very simple question, and a very logical one—especially on the cusp of a new year. But I was completely caught off guard.
I was surprised by how little I could think of, how little I had to say. To survive, I said, half-joking. But only half. If I’m honest, it’s pretty easy to look ahead at the next weeks and months and year and see one enormous to-do list, much of it filled with tasks that I am not particularly looking forward to. There are things that will demand much of me. Things that will require more from me that it often seems that I am able (or willing) to give. It’s also easy to look ahead and see a bunch of persistent challenges and heartaches that will probably not magically disappear because a four has been swapped for a five on a calendar. It’s pretty easy to look ahead and think, God, I hope I can make it through it all!
Which sounds fairly uninspiring. In fact, I am feeling quite fed up with myself at the halfway point of this post. If you have made it this far, I commend you. 😉
My friend’s simple question has stayed with me for the past few days… What do I hope for?
If not that 2015 will contain all kinds of wonderful events and experiences and changes that previous years did not, then what? Happiness? We say, Happy New Year, but what a boring and undemanding thing to wish upon anyone. I was conscripted into praying before the meal at a recent social gathering full of the usual mixture of religious, irreligious, anti-religious and apathetic people. I rarely enjoy praying in such situations—it usually feels like I am being asked to provide a bit of harmless and appropriately vague religious window dressing to someone’s special event. And this was no exception. I found myself uttering loathsome phrases that I hated almost as soon as they were out of my mouth. I pray that you would bless all of us with a happy and healthy 2015… Did I really just say that out loud?! Is it possible that God might have a few higher ambitions for us in 2015 than that we are pleased? Could God have a bit of character refinement in mind? Might God desire a few courses to be corrected in 2015? A few less stupid and selfish decisions that sacrifice the health and happiness of others for what we imagine to be our own? I wonder…
No, I do not have the courage to hope for happiness in 2015. At least not on its own. The things that make me happy aren’t always (or even often) the things that I most need, the hopes that most need to be grown within me. I think God has higher hopes for me than happiness.
So what do I hope for?
At the end of it all, at the end of all the grouchy New Years whining and bleak prognostications, what do I hope for?! Surely, behind all the weary pessimism and grating sarcasm, there is something to be said for hope at the dawn of this new year?!
Yes, there is. There has to be. For as much as the word “hope” has been reduced to the size of our small selves, as much as it has been used abused and turned into a tool of the marketers, it is still a word that points to a need that we have that will never go away. We need hope, even if we don’t know how or why.
And I do have hope. At New Years, or any other time of the year. Really. I do. My hopes have, I suspect, changed over the years. They seem a bit smaller. My hopes have become less about things out there than things in here. Because I know that changes in here will be the only way that I will ever find my way through and contribute anything meaningful to out there.
So this year, I am hoping for little things. Little steps, little changes. Not by magic, not without effort or struggle, not little miracle droplets that will float down from heaven to inhabit my mind. No, nothing like that. Nothing that will not involve me in deep and probably painful ways. But I am hopeful for little signs that the things that bring life will gradually, steadily, irreversibly come to be at home in me, in the way I live and move through 2015, however extraordinary or utterly ordinary it turns out to be.
Little things like…
Love. Grace. Patience. Kindness. Self-control. Gentleness. Peace. Joy! To forgive and to ask for forgiveness more easily and naturally.
Little things that actually aren’t very little at all. Little things that are, in fact, the biggest things I could ever hope for.