Friday, January 8, 2010

Thoughts to Usher in a New Year

On New Year’s Eve I sat watching old video clips of Dutch’s grandparents – his grandmother in her easy chair reading Bible stories to the grandchildren; feeding ice cream to the baby; washing and re-stuffing an old stuffed toy. His grandfather at the piano belting out lyrics to forgotten hymns; bouncing a child on his lap, making up songs. The two of them, sitting on a backyard swingset, waving and smiling beneath a sunny sky.

Ten years of Christmas and summer vacations condensed down into sixty concise minutes, prepackaged for my viewing pleasure. I couldn’t help but notice the date on the recorder jumping forward with every frame: June 1990, December '91, '92, '93, '94… creeping ever closer to the year 1996, when his grandmother died unexpectedly of leukemia.

And do you know what it made me think?

It made me think how very fast life goes. Our children age while we grow old until, all at once, without warning, life can be, will be over.

TS Eliot writes: there will be “time for you and time for me, / And time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea.” But the truth is that the time is very short …

Dutch says I am not a good listener. He is right. “But why do you think?” I asked him.

“Because,” he said, “you think you know what people are going to say before they say it. Usually you are right but that isn’t the point.”

“What’s the point?” I said, laughing.

“The point is that you don’t have the patience to sit and listen.”

He is right about that too. But that is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

On Christmas Day I realized that I want life to consist of epiphanal moments, mountain top experiences, where I learn something completely, cross it off my list and say, “Now that’s done let’s get on to more important matters…”

But that is not what the Christian life is about. The Christian life is about the small moments spent going to battle with myself, revisiting old truths and putting them into practice. Victory is slow and incremental; it isn't glamorous but the small moments really are the important ones.

I am not really one for making New Year’s resolutions which hardly seem to outlive the hoopla that surrounds them. But this year feels different. We are entering a new decade. I am about to turn 30. And my daughter who, only a moment ago, was looking up at me mute and toothless, now asks about the meaning of airplanes, and when I am frustrated detects even the slightest alteration in my voice.

And while I would like to say that I am approaching total mastery of skills like patience and kindness, the fact is I am not so different from the girl I was ten years ago. Then, as now, I was resolved to “count everything a loss for the sake of knowing Christ and being found in Him.” But what I did not count on, and what still leaps up to shatter my self-image, is the sin in my heart. “Look for me another day / I feel that I could change / I feel that I could change” is the ballad my soul sings.

But though I may feel that change is possible, the truth is I cannot, apart from the salvific work of Christ, change my nature one dot or tittle.

What to do, then, I asked myself, in a moment of despair? And what was it all for – my casting out into the unknown future, forging a life I never otherwise would have dreamed of, and counting as loss those things I once considered valuable - if I am not discernably closer to “knowing Christ" than I was before?”

I thought about this a long time. I thought about it until my head hurt… and the more I thought, the further I seemed from arriving at any kind of conclusion.

That is until something led me back to the famous chapter in Philippians from which these words and concepts emerge… And in revisiting these old passages I realized something new: that it is not the attainment of perfection that matters - Christ has already done that once and for all on my behalf (Hebrews 10.14) - it is the perpetual striving, the continual willingness to “count all things to be that I may gain Christ...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

It seems to me that what Paul is describing is a process of counting all things as loss in order to gain intimacy with Christ. Put another way, he is exhorting me to cast aside, or consider as rubbish, anything which raises itself up between me and Christ.

My mistake is in assuming this should only happen once when in fact it must happen many, many times... for a lifetime. For it is in the act of perpetually dying that I am conformed to the likeness of Christ.

So rather than give way to despair in those moments when my sin is revealed, I should rejoice, knowing that Christ not only paid the ultimate penalty for my sin; but that He has paved a different path for me to follow.

The revelation is an opportunity - a carpe diem moment - to cast my sin aside and "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

With His help, this year, I want to... more and more, I want to.


Daniele said...

Posts like these make me wish you and your deep thoughts had lived here much, much longer...

The Who said...

Isaiah 43:18-19 (King James Version)
Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?
I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

I raise a glass with you, arm in arm, standing face-forward with beams to welcome the "new things" God is forever doing for each of us. I love you. This is a wonderful wonderful post. Thank you for writing this down.

HM Baker said...

You are both wonderful and I am only so grateful that it made sense to you... I felt as though I were grasping at straws to try to put it into words.

Love, Love, Love, H

Patsy said...

The day after Christmas,my DH and I were blessed to travel to Israel with others from our church. We were blessed to partake of The Lord's Supper in The Garden Tomb, I was in tears suddenly thinking of the price paid for my sins, reminded how often I seek forgivness and try not to do all those things that brought me to thatplace, and yet doing it over and over. Your words in 'small beginings' has been a source of encouragement,and food for thought on the Christian life and my relationship with my Lord. Thanks, p