Reflections on a New Year

Painting: Auld Lang Syne

As the year begins to draw its final breath, I find my thoughts wandering it directions best described as reflection and hope.

Memories were made this year that I’ll never forget. Lessons have been learned, mistakes made, and obstacles either overcome or stumbled over. All considering, I know that I am different for having lived another year in this world.

Looking back can be a beautiful, holy thing. I have seen the faithfulness of the Lord in ways I never would have imagined 365 days ago. To pause, reflect, and bring these memories before the Lord in thankfulness is indeed a wonderful thing.

Looking back can also be painful. There are memories that, honestly, I’d rather forget. Past wounds have been reopened; fresh heartaches and struggles have surfaced along with the old ones. Long held questions remain unanswered and new questions have joined their ranks. And yet, in the same manner, even these less-than-pleasant memories are to be offered up to the Lord. They are to be placed in His hands, in trust that He indeed will provide all we need and is faithful to His promise; even though I can’t see the end of it all yet.

As the year turns the last pages of its final chapter, I hope you take time to reflect and bring it all before the Lord. It’s all “material for sacrifice” as Elisabeth Elliot says.

Yes, the past is to be remembered, treasured, and learned from. However, the past is not to be lived in. A brilliant opportunity awaits right around the corner; at the risk of sounding cliche, a blank canvas of sorts. A new canvas is exciting; the opportunities for what it can become are beyond limit. Yet (and I doubt I’m the only one), I often find this boundless and unrestrained “opportunity” as frightening as it may be exciting.

Pristine white stares back at me, and I just plain don’t know if when I make the first mark of color, it’ll begin a series of mistakes and failed good intentions that my twenty years of experience traveling around the sun won’t be able to undo. I fear that a picture will result that isn’t at all what I envisioned; rather, that it will  stand as a messy reminder of my shortcomings and staggering inadequacy.

Stepping back a bit, I now consider the previous train of thought an interesting one, because, in my two-and-a-half years of being a more-or-less serious artist, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a painting turn out as I imagined it would.

Does this mean that I’m perpetually dissatisfied with my work? Quite the opposite, actually.

Though the picture that results from my artistic struggle is never so perfect as the first flash of inspiration, 90% of the time, I like the resultant work better. The odd little flecks of color and not-so-straight lines add a flesh-and-blood quality to the painting—a realness of which I wouldn’t have known how to imagine. The imperfect painting is within itself a commentary on the struggle to create in a fallen world. Depth is added by the introduction of imperfection.

These thoughts carry over into life itself. Whatever dreams and goals you have for these next 366 days, by all means, go for it. But, I encourage you to keep this is mind: life is not to be won, but to be lived.

You will fail. You will fall short or your own expections and others’ expectations of you. You will grow discouraged, and you’ll be temped to give up. And I can guarantee you; this year will not look anything like you or I envision it. That’s simply the way of things. But your own inadequacies and failures add the beauty of it all, if only you continue to get up and keep painting.

The most encouraging thing about these beginnings before us? The good news of the gospel of Christ is that new mercies follow us into this new year. We do not struggle alone, we do not have to prove our value, we do not have to keep falling and getting back up in our own strength. So lean on Him, friend. Praise Him, cry out to Him, draw near. Because, dear friend and fellow traveler, we are one year closer to seeing His face.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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