Happy New Year! After all the snow and wind, the economic meltdown and the political messes (and aren’t you thankful they don’t all belong to us here?) I am pleasantly surprised to find myself looking forward to this new year. I admit I tend to be optimistic, but I am definitely not Pollyanna. Still, I find that each new year gives me one more chance to do a little better than I did last year. It reminds me that even if things have fallen apart, life goes on and I still have the chance to try again. It reminds me of how God’s grace is like a new year – it tells me that this day is still in front of me, it isn’t over and I am not done yet. I have a new year to live in and to try to use a little better than the last one. I’m not out of time yet, so I can still pursue the things that matter most.
When I was a high school coach (basketball and soccer for those who are full of idle curiosity) I always tried to get the team to remember that as long as there was still time left in the game, they could still try to do what they needed to do to succeed. When we were winning, it was easy to get the point across; but when we were behind, it was even more important to forget the score (your circumstances) and ask only, “What do we have to do to succeed?” That is the only thing to think about – not the score or the time that’s left, but only what I must do to have my best shot at success. So if I need the ball three times to win, my job is to get the ball. If it is to stop the other team from scoring, my job is to play defense. So when time runs out, if I have given my best effort to do those things, then even if I have lost the game, I have still pursued excellence. I haven’t allowed adverse circumstances to defeat me.
That’s what I think having a “new year” is like. It is realizing that I can still pursue excellence; I can still get my mind back on the task of living for what matters most and give it my best effort. And even though I am sure there will be circumstances that I can’t control that will make things difficult, I do not have to let those circumstances change me or prevent me from giving life my best.
That brings me back to the way I find God’s grace teaching me to live for what matters the most, to not be defeated by adversity or discouraged by the “score.” Each day I can reach for what is best and try to make this world a little better than it was the day before. Remember when Jesus said that “God loved the world so much that He gave His only son, so that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life?” Jesus went on to say that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17, my paraphrase). God’s grace is concerned with saving rather than condemning and we have this new year to set about the task of “saving.” Saving from hunger and cold. Saving from injustice and prejudice. Saving from selfishness and greed. Saving from indifference and neglect. I know it’s a big list and big circumstances, but we have this brand new year to give it our best shot. Happy new year!