“2016, I am so done with you.”
Statements like those have been a common refrain in my social media feed, particularly after news relating the death of a beloved musician (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen), actor (Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher), or public figure (John Glenn, Muhammad Ali). For many, 2016 was an especially awful year. Between a bitterly contested Presidential race, a global refugee crisis with no end in sight, domestic and international terrorism, ongoing racial tensions and high-profile police shootings, and many, many other issues—it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to just close the book on those challenges? How about a fresh start in 2017, a blank slate, clean bill of health for the world, all debts paid?
Of course, that’s not the way it works.
Life gives second chances (and thirds, and fourths…), but these are always sequels that build on the past, never altogether new. We don’t get the luxury of going back to the home-screen and picking a different story like we do on Netflix. Most of the challenges of 2016 will remain with us into 2017, and their ramifications will raise new challenges unforeseen to us now. The challenges of life aren’t at all affected by the celebration of one more pass around the sun.
But, while life doesn’t offer do-overs, it does move in cycles that give us time to reflect on our “do-next-time’s” and that’s the opportunity found in New Year’s resolutions. The “do-next-time” I’d recommend to you—even if it’s your “do-again-next-time” or “do-for-the-first-time—is to commit to a devotional practice that helps you make sense of years like 2016.
Last summer at MRO, we looked at the stories of Daniel and Ruth as a way of understanding the Big Story of God in the Bible. The challenges that this man and woman faced are similar to our own. Ruth’s family faced utter devastation after the deaths of her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law—all in a brief span of time. Daniel was pressured to compromise his convictions at the cost of losing his job and even his life. But the profundity of these stories isn’t that their struggles perfectly mirror ours. The profundity is that their hope perfectly mirrors ours. Or rather, their hope is our hope. Ruth’s story teaches us that the answer to our present suffering is a King who will redeem our sorrows once and for all. Daniel teaches us that God is moving behind the scenes, even when all seems lost, to bring justice and save his people.
Reading stories like these, regularly, reminds us that our struggles aren’t just the unhappy coincidences of a bad year, but the perennial challenges of humankind. More importantly, however, they remind us that the hope of those who have gone before us is the same hope that we can have this year—hope that isn’t founded in casual optimism, but in the real, embodied events of history recorded in Scripture—most notably in the Incarnation of God himself through the person of Jesus Christ.
While we might be “So done with 2016,” I’m grateful that our Lord isn’t. He’s at work in our world, by the power of his Holy Spirit, active in the lives of his Church and in camps like Moose River Outpost, Brookwoods, and Deer Run. So as 2016 comes to a close, think about ways that you’d like to regularly hear words of hope in the pages of Scripture. I’ve included some personal recommendations below.
Whatever you decide, I encourage you recommit to some way of entering into the Big Story of God on a regular basis. That way, whatever comes in 2017, you’ll have something real to offer to a world desperately in need of hope.
Recommendations for Regular Scripture Reading:
As an Anglican pastor, I recommend the Daily Office Lectionary, used by Anglican churches worldwide, which provides four readings from across the Bible every day. Praying the Psalms regularly has helped me to be more honest and authentic in my prayers, especially during times of grief. Or you might try to read the Bible in one year. Friends of mine have really enjoyed this daily email that allows you to listen or read a commentary that helps explain the passages.