New recipe. New job. New shoes. New movement. New haircut. New leader. New year.
We love beginnings–I love them. There’s a giddiness to that first step, leap, and bound. Possibilities ahead, the disappointments of the past cast behind, and you plan and dream for that dewy, shining land stretched before you, waiting to be conquered.
I remember when I started my first full-time job last fall, how I scrambled out of my blankets before the alarm went off and paced back-and-forth at the train stop, thrilled to begin another day. I tacked sheet after sheet of paper above my desk, scrawling all over them with new ideas to improve school programming, bright blue diagrams and arrows pointing to the results of yet another brainstorming session over lunch.
I remember how those first months took organic shape, how I knew with bone-deep certainty that I was in the right place and the work was a natural fit.
Looking back upon this year, I can see how the months have worn into me like denim taking the sun’s beating, changing color over time. Mistakes made (mine), emails piling, student crises spiking, spreadsheets looming, and more mistakes chafe at the mystique and wonder of a new job until you start having those moments where you need reminding of why you’re there.
It’s easy to fixate on everything that went wrong or was lacking. It seems to be human nature that we inflate our failures and linger in our losses. January 1st appeals to us because it’s our reset button: we get to start over. But how long does that anticipation nurse us before bad news, boredom, or just sheer doneness sets in again?
I don’t want to start 2018 the same way I started 2017–or frankly, the way I start most things. In the past, I would hinge all my hopes on the list of goals I drew up and sailed through the initial days, expecting that everything will be different once the clock struck twelve. Then when things got hard, when I found myself caught in the same routines, I got tired and those dreams collected dust, discarded as winter rolled on.
There are reasons for this weariness. 2017 has been a year where I’ve seen the division of my country sharpen and splinter. It’s been a year of destructive storms and shootings and conversations cut off. It’s been a year of uncertainty and unjust laws. It’s been a year of crying, raging against the same problems. It’s been a year where we all got tired of the daily grind and the daily headlines.
But as I prepare now for 2018, here’s the difference from December 31st, 2016: it’s no longer only about beginnings.
Yes, the first day of January comes, symbolic and stainless. But for everything else outside the calendar box…it continues. The struggles of the previous year and years are still there, the hurt is still-deep-in there, the living people who matter to us are still there, and the work in our hands is still there. They may have lost their glamour and we may have lost our fire, but that doesn’t mean we stop there and pretend we can start again from a vacuum.
No, we build upon what we had before, and above pursuing the changes we want to see in ourselves and in the world, we pursue Christ first, who orients us to rightly engage all other things of weight. This is persistence: instead of only chasing the attraction of the new we can accomplish, we continue to labor in the soil where God has strategically placed us to bring renewal.
We invite God to extend our vision and work through us so we not only think of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” as Philippians 4:8 invokes, but our daily actions and choices will also testify to all facets of God’s glory.
The words of Christian thinker G.K. Chesterton in his work Orthodoxy come to mind now, words shared with me during a Faith and Work class I took a few months ago:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
These words resonated powerfully with me when I first heard them, speaking to me in midst of the sleep-deprived doldrums of my work. They refreshed my soul then, and I offer them to you now as a reminder that a year cannot be defined solely by the mountaintop experiences of our greatest successes and milestones, but rather by every single seemingly-mundane moment in the valleys between them.
It’s hard to move forward and know that even while you work towards the growth and change that is needed, there are many things around you that will remain. There will be emails to address and political reps to call and protest signs to make and meals to cook and friends to pray for and meetings to attend and headlines to grieve and alarms to answer. But I invite us to move boldly through these everydays not with grimness and resignation, but with confidence and compassion, knowing God already goes before us.
We get to choose everyday to work with everything we’ve been given, love with all our God-given capacity, and build slowly towards dreams that cannot be contained within a day, a year. We live and endure along a road to eternity where even our routines are worship to God.
I take ownership of what has been laid in my hands and the burdens laid on my heart. I confess my passivity, my pride, and my fear that prevent me from taking a stand and trusting God to sustain me through the struggles and hard work to come. I confess this and lay it before God-knowing I’ll be tested in these areas again and again-with this declaration: I am not a static character in a stale book. No, I am changing and learning as I endure the long race, mirroring my Savior who endured the cross to scorn its shame and bring freedom. So I’ll wake up and go to work and write about racism and check in on my friends and pay bills and plan events and thank God for it all.
I realize now that I didn’t write as much this year, and while I could feel guilty about that, I won’t fixate on things not done. A new year comes, and with faith, with hope, I will keep going. For me, exercising persistence will involve everyday choices to pray, research, and write. I will continue as a scholar, servant and advocate, acknowledging that the capacity for blessing others through these roles is only fully realized when I pursue Christ first.
Persistence fueled by divine hope shatters unjust strongholds and welds communities together where there was once estrangement and ignorance. It illuminates, clarifies, and clears a way for a world still waiting, still yearning to unfold.
Wake up tomorrow and do it again. Do it again, do it again, and watch the world change with you.
Thanks for reading, commenting, and reflecting with me in 2017. I hope alongside you for the new year, and I look forward to continuing together.