The heart of the human being often becomes a rejected treasure that children begin to hide when they do not experience themselves as pursued and affirmed. This common experience is a great sadness. When the heart is experienced as the enemy of the child, then God, too, can become intuitively and improperly feared, distrusted, or given up.
During the turn of each year, we bet on the future through New Year’s resolutions. Though we do not plan to lose the bet or fail to see these resolutions through, we often end up failing to finish them. Many people have said that making resolutions is one way for us to ignore or avoid the lives we have. Betting on the future is a way to avoid the “poverty” of the present, and bet on a luck streak, windfall, or magic moment. The sad part is that our present lives are not actually impoverished so much as we don’t know how to live a life that has everything in it—what we want and what we don’t want.
While New Year’s resolutions are no doubt an expression of hope, these promises about who we will become are birthed in the frustrations encountered in the present, including the difficult work of change in the present. Resolving to become different in the future can become a masterful way to avoid doing the work of today. Promises can be a way even to avoid facing the tragic nature of life. Contrary to the belief in some carnival magic of the future, changing our lives begins in the present, rather than someday. We create a part of the future by living today. It is not something that comes to us, or that we will be one day. The future involves being able to live well in the frustrations of the present, and mining the possibilities of the present.
True hope and real resolve is lived in the present. Working toward what we want our lives to become is where hope becomes an action in the present. We really can make the humdrum of daily effort as pleasurable as dreaming about what our lives could be like some day, whether we want to lose weight or buy a new house. We do so by acknowledging our willingness to let something matter and taking action accordingly. That means:
- Acknowledging your own passion—a willingness to be in pain for something that matters more than pain
- Stating the purpose of your passion
- Living a daily plan with passion and purpose
Finding romance in the ordinary is the most radical form of hope at the start of the new year. Otherwise, we spend our lives waiting for Santa Claus. And at the end of our time, when whatever we wanted to happen may or may not have been brought to us, all we will be able to say is that at least we waited, at least we remained loyal to our belief in Santa. Belief in some day, again, can allow us to trick ourselves to avoid the frustrations of the present for the fantasy of a perfect future. By living the present, we can have a future. The ability to leave our ordinary lives in favor of a future life becomes tragic when we, as Wallace Stevens writes, “live beyond ourselves in the air.” Not living beyond ourselves involves us fully engaging with the frustrations and glory of the gravity of daily living.
I want to share something about Christmas, but before I do, I want to defend myself. I have seen enough, experienced enough, have been educated enough, and have lived long enough to escape being judged as simply naïve or even ridiculous.
I have seen death and curled up in darkness. I know what despair looks like in others and can feel like in me. I know terror and the anticipation of helplessness recurring. I know obsession and oppression from within. I know toxic shame from the inside out. I know suicide, violence, and loss. I know grief, and hardness of heart. I know judgmentalism and aloneness. I know desperation, heart breaking loneliness, loss of moorings, denial, powerlessness, and the hard, hard concentrated work of giving up hope. I know tears and pretending, faking and acting. I do not write these things as a badge of honor; quite the opposite. I say these things more as a statement of what I wish I didn’t know.
They are more like scars on my heart than any badge of honor. I work in the addiction, depression, and anxiety field in which the things above are so common as to be daily life.
It is almost Christmas Day. Even with all the experience mentioned above, I believe, even more than a child can, that an angel of the LORD appeared to shepherds in the field who followed the angel’s words to Bethlehem. I believe they went to a stable, and they found Joseph, Mary, and a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger. I believe that the mother was a virgin who birthed the Son of God. That wise men, bearing gifts, eventually presented themselves sometime afterwards. I believe that they had been looking for years for what the shepherds experienced one night through serendipitous circumstance. I believe that Joseph and Mary raised Jesus, and that eventually he raised them as Savior and Lord.
I have seen and experienced enough in childhood and manhood that could contradict this wild story, but I believe it. I don’t believe it like wishing. I believe it like air. I don’t see air; I breathe it in and out, not by faith alone, but for life itself. I don’t just believe it. I know it like air. And I live in it like air. It is what keeps me going in the midst of all the realities of the sorrows. My heart is made bigger than its scars, and my hope greater than despair by what happened in Bethlehem. We never have to be alone because of what happened that star filled night. We never have to give up hope because the eyes of our hearts have received this great light, this great lasting air, the air that can reach into the suffocating circumstances of everything I mentioned in the beginning of this writing, and breathe life.