January lends itself to self-examination: out with the old, in with the new.
If you haven’t noticed, we serve a God who does “new” very well. The Israelites had been 400 years in slavery in Egypt and he sent Moses to do a new thing among them. The Ninevites were about as evil a culture as you can imagine, and God sent Jonah to preach a word so they could be new. Jesus came to put away the old covenant of law and brought us a new covenant under his blood.
We, however, are not much like God. While God blissfully may be doing “new,” we humans are decidedly not. In fact, we are stubbornly hanging on to the old.
Our old ways, thoughts, and hurts are comfortable in their familiarity. They often come to define us. We carry around our patterns as labels and do not question them, maybe even using them as justification for why we are this way. “I am just old,” one says as a way to justify liking old hymns and not learning new ones. “My family is just like this. We are all hot tempered,” another says to justify the abusive rage that spews out at any perceived slight. “You don’t understand! I can’t do that – I just can’t. It’s not me!” another wails as fear overwhelms them. We become “old”, “like my family” or “that is not me” because to embrace being different, we would have to face the deep things inside us that render us unwilling to change, to be angry, and to be fearful. Facing those things can be terrifying. If we peel back our stubbornness, we will have to own how selfish we are down deep. If we peel back our rage, we may see deep wounds and ugly scars left by people in our pasts. If we peel back the fear, we might find we care more about what other people think of us than God’s good opinion. In short, facing the deep things always forces us to let go of our safe labels. And (horrors!) if we give up all of that, what will fill the cavernous space?!
No, we humans are not embracing “new”. We like the old, comfortable t-shirts with our old labels and our old sins still intact, thank you very much. Believe me when I say I have a drawer full of old t-shirts I drag out and wear around. You see, even though I may hate them, they are still known and comfortable.
Yet, I have also — with the strength of God in me — thrown a few of the t-shirts out. Ask any believer who has rooted out a sin or two: there is sweet joy in shedding the weight of the old, horrid things. Because that is what fills the cavernous space: sweet joy, gentle peace. When you finally break the chains of bondage to the old, you step into freedom from annoyance, rage, fear and the like.
Is there something that no longer serves you well? Take a long look at your life patterns. Is there anything dogging you that you’d rather not take to the grave?
If we were all honest, there is a yes in there for every one of us. Perhaps this is the year to take off an old t-shirt and lay it at the foot of the throne.
I won’t lie and say it will be easy. As a point of fact, for most of us it is a long slog. We have to lay down our burden at the throne and walk away, only to discover we have picked it up again before the day is out. We have to apologize to God for our refusal to let it lie. We have to apologize to other humans for the damage we’ve done them in our old patterns and the damage we do to them as we fumble and practice new ways. We will feel naked without our old label and old t-shirt. We will be awkward, maybe embarrassed. We will have to ask our brothers and sisters to cover our errors with love and mercy, and encourage us when we falter. We will cry sometimes. We will repeat this cycle — far more times than we ever wanted to. But if we persevere, we will also, gradually, become something new.
We are not called to be sad, broken, lonely, weary, isolated, fearful, angry, selfish, arrogant, snarky, or domineering – in short, slaves to sin and in bondage to our pasts. We are called to be new.
As a child of The King, part of the inheritance is to be loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing with others, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled – free! We may be a long way from possessing that inheritance at all times and in all ways – but oh, my brothers and sisters! Let us not weary in well doing – let us press on towards the goal! This means owning a few (probably painful) truths and unclenching our fingers from things we need to release to God’s hand. Swap out an old t-shirt for new robes. And today? Well, today is a good day to start.
Not because we wanted,
For change is not usually our choice.
But the Lord of All says “change”
And His children heed His Voice.
My life is Yours, and so as well my breath.
My time is Yours, and so beyond my death.
The old has passed away.
We cannot now it reclaim.
My future made of mist
Waits for You to name.
I breathe in…