How we celebrate New Year reflects our personality (as well as our stage of life). Some go for the spectacular dazzling party, complete with fireworks and plenty of noise to herald in the New Year. Others prefer the quieter approach, opting to spend time in reflection and contemplation. Some are excited to get into a New Year, others are anxious about what it may hold.
There was more than one of my Facebook friends who expressed gratitude that at least 2014 had held more happiness than sorrow for them and in some ways this seems to be the benchmark for us in assessing the past year – if we can recall more good times than bad times, then we are thankful.
What has struck me this year, though, is the difference between those of us who want to forget the past year and those of us who want to recall it. On the one hand are those who are glad to see the end of 2014, remembering its pain and hurts, and wanting to finally lay it to rest and be done with it. On the other hand are those who want to milk it for all they can learn from it, at least before they do lay it to rest.
As we look ahead, too, we are wishing one another a Happy New Year – sometimes also wishing one another good health. These are our hopes and desires – for ourselves, our families and our friends.
And why shouldn’t we wish one another happiness and good health? I am not suggesting for one moment that we should wish one another sorrow and sickness. But, for those who do take the time to look back and reflect, often it is with the realisation that the times we have learned most, the times we have grown most, have been the hard times.
The Bible makes no secret of the fact that we will all experience hard times in our lives. In fact, Paul expresses the following hope:
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Phil.3:10-11.
We like those sentiments – until they start talking about suffering. We want to know Jesus, and the power of his resurrection, but the fellowship of his sufferings….? We don’t want that – for ourselves or for our loved ones. Can you imagine wishing that on someone for 2015?!
Yet it seems to me that there is a thread running through the Bible which demonstrates that it is in the hard times that God can shape us and mould us and make us more like Jesus. Think about Abraham or Moses or Joseph in the Old Testament – and when we come to the New Testament, Paul tells us that his thorn in the flesh was used by God to teach him important lessons about dependence on Christ II Cor.12:27. And of course when we think of Jesus himself, he was called the Suffering Servant: his life was characterised by suffering. In fact, it was his sacrifice that bought us our redemption and the possibility of abundant, eternal life.
So don’t let’s be masochistic – let’s not go looking for suffering. But let’s step into 2015 in the knowledge that of course there will be the good and the bad, there will be happiness and sorrow, there will be success and failure, but God can use all the vicissitudes of our lives – and seems to often use the hard times – to teach us more about who he is and more about who we are. Let’s not be afraid of the hard times. They can be rich times of learning and growing and maturing. We have nothing to fear – because we know that he has promised to be with us in every circumstance of our lives, until he takes us home, to the place where there will be no more suffering or pain, but joy forevermore. Whether we are leaving joy or sorrow behind in 2014, there are far, far better things ahead.