For selfish reasons, being born the week after Christmas has its pitfalls. But the days between Christmas and New Year prove to be a great time for honest reflection. But this year, that reflection hasn’t been so easy.
I turned thirty-five years old this week. I have to pause and let it sink in because life has a cruel way of speeding up without warning. Before we can blink, years have passed, our kids are grown up, and we find ourselves clinging to old memories like some sort of deflating life raft in the middle of an angry sea.
The toughest lesson through my first thirty-five years is the lesson of misplaced hope. Whether it was my grandfather’s suicide, a real estate bubble that left me holding the bag, or my own health that faced a cancer diagnosis in 2014, there have been countless things that have let me down.
If we’re really honest, we’ll cling to anything that gives off the aura of hope: our money, our career, our family, our health, our politicians, our celebrities. We don’t realize how much of a life raft those things are until there’s a hole punched in one of the sides and the air begins to leak out.
A lot of people verbalized disdain for 2016, as if the year itself took on a persona of death and disappointment. As I pondered why, it hit me. This year was a year that killed so many of the things that we hoped in and hoped for.
And as we stand here on the precipice of another year, you and I both are faced with the same decision: curse the year and everything in it or reposition our hope. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in the exact same position a year from now.
It Begins With Humility
I begin each year by picking a word. It helps me focus less on doing and more on being and it increases my focus in a certain direction.
In 2016, I chose the word “humility”. That’s a big word that scared me on numerous occasions. I always felt this impending doom that some disaster was waiting to teach me what true humility was about. When our son was being hospitalized back in February and when my wife developed a pericardial effusion this summer, it caused me to wrestle with a deeply rooted fear that I would lose them. That may be a weird thought to process, but doing so has caused me loosen my grip on that which I cherish most.
I chose humility because I wanted to remove the prideful striving of my own will and learn to humbly rest in the Lord’s. He’s shown me so many subtle, sneaking hooks that still keep me captive, stressed, and exhausted. In the end, I’ve learned that humility is seeing things as they are—seeing things through a lens of truth.
In a way humility is the birthplace of hope. Instead of an “I’ve got this” mentality, it opts for a “He’s got this” posture. That might seem like a utopian idea of a God who truly cares for His people, but I have found it to be absolutely true. When I’m willing to relinquish the idea that God needs me, I’m able to understand His love for me. Being loved releases you from the desire to be needed.
Without humility you cannot see God. It really is that simple. In humility He joined us and in humility He chose the cross. It’s only fitting that it’s in our own surrender where we find Him there, waiting.
As I tell people about this, they say, “Yeah, that sounds good, but how do you do it? What does it really look like? How does that actually play out in your life?”
Well, I’ve also learned that you can’t “do” humble, you can only “be” it. It’s more of a positioning of the heart than any dutiful action of the hands which is why it’s so incredibly difficult to ascertain in a world of Little Engines That Could.
Humility is about reflecting on our circumstances and seeking the truth within them rather than our surface-level, visceral response. It’s about learning to listen to God instead of imposing our own understanding upon Him. Humility is about getting brutally honest about our agenda and not letting it become our chief navigator. And, it’s about really knowing that you don’t have to defend yourself.
After a year of wrestling with this word, I can humbly say that it is hard, really hard. And as I look for the why, it’s very clear. We live in a world that fights against humility. I think humility begins with recognizing that the same world that calls us to place our hope in everything but God is the same world that leaves us clinging to its failed rescue for our deepest desires.
We have something strong enough to hold on to when we finally let go.
I invite you to join me in reflection.
Most people choose not to reflect because they believe that it’s too painful or too hard. But instead of clinging to memories as a life raft, we have to learn how they can grant us perspective in this very moment. Your circumstances won’t make 2017 better. You will navigate the coming year by what you have learned in 2016.
When we curse the year, unwilling to pause in humble reflection at what God might be trying to teach us, we remove the very power we have to change something about our future. We’re refusing to place our hope where it belongs. That’s pride. Pride is the sneaky thing that nudges us to take a bite yet leaves us shackled to all of the things we despise—fear, hate, sorrow, and shame, just to name a few. Curiously, the only thing powerful enough to conquer pride is humility.
The only two things God asks of us are a humble and willing heart and the courageous patience to live out His will. 2016 helped me cultivate that humble and willing heart. Now, 2017 is about the courageous patience to actually take those steps of unrestrained faith.
It might have taken God thirty-five years to get me to this place, but I’m ready for the next thirty-five. It’s only when I’m willing to look back at all that He has done and the hopelessness of everything else that I can firmly say that I am hopeful for 2017 and beyond because my hope is in Him.
I guess you could say that I’m out of the boat, and now, I’m not afraid of sinking.
Care to join me?