I won’t lie. This year has been hard. Ridiculously hard.
As the year dawned, I found myself walking yet another friend through an unwanted divorce, mourning the pain of 3 very young children, the strained hopes and dreams of a dedicated parent, and the brokenness of a faith tossed aside. Then there was a failed romantic venture that etched deep scars on my already wounded heart. By mid year, my own health reached a breaking point and I learned I not only had to stop eating gluten, but I had a rare auto-immune disease that would keep me from ever eating it again.
As the leaves began to change, our whole world was turned upside down when my youngest son was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Honestly, it’s been such a hard year that I haven’t even thought about being thankful it’s almost over. In fact, I hadn’t really reflected on this all together until a friend mentioned all the negative attitudes of people bidding good riddance to 2016, the worst year yet.
I’ve pondered her words and watched similar posts on Facebook for a few days now and I’ve got to admit, I’m convicted of my own lousy attitude. I am literally sitting here staring at a few boxes that need to be wrapped, a wrecked office from holiday shipping frenzies, and a small suitcase to remind me that my kids are leaving in just a few days to enjoy the holidays and vacation without me. I feel tired, lonely, uncertain, and did I mention TIRED?
None of what happened this past year was my idea of a good time and sometimes I feel like I can relate to old Scrooge. You know the guy. He worked people to the bone in deplorable conditions, couldn’t be bothered by the concerns of others, and spat “bah-humbug” at anyone who attempted to spread a little Christmas cheer in his direction.
Alright perhaps I’m being a little over dramatic, or as a friend says, “too hard” on myself. But the point remains true. It’s easy to slip into a season of bitterness when life isn’t going quite like we had hoped. Truly, it only takes one situation or circumstance to find ourselves there. We don’t even need a long list like the one I just droned on about. We can easily loose sight of the blessings in favor of focusing on the mountains of hurt, sorrow, and ugly circumstances.
As Scrooge’s story goes, he was paraded around in a dream and shown just exactly what would happen to his life if he continued on the path of bitterness. It’s quite possibly one of the most impactful fiction stories told at Christmas time. Not to mention, the moral of the story is dead on with Hebrews 12:14-15.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.
Those are pretty strong words. If we choose not to accept the grace of God and instead wallow in our own bitterness, we will not only be friends with trouble, the very thing will defile us. This makes me want to go back up and delete everything I wrote above. And of course private message (because I’m passive aggressive) all my Facebook friends and tell them to remove those “good riddance” posts for 2016.
But if I did that you’d miss the point. You see, I did have a hard year and perhaps you did too. At the very least, you probably have something you are so glad to be done with and hope to never walk through again. We don’t have to embrace those things with hopeful expectation of their return. But we can use them as opportunities to grow in Christ and allow His glory to shine through our lives.
We have to remember that every single hard thing God put (or allowed) into our path in 2016 was purposeful. It was for our good. Every minute of it. At the beginning of that chapter in Hebrews, before we get to the part about bitterness, guess what the topic is?
Discipline. You know, our favorite thing to talk about. Verse 11 reminds us that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
This year wasn’t wasted, my friend. Your pain, your wounded heart, your brokenness, your stress, your uncertainty. None of it was wasted.
So may I ask you to consider what you say on Facebook, and moreover, what you are thinking in your heart? May I challenge you to spend these days thinking back on 2016 with thanksgiving, marveling at the little things God did through the hard times, or the blessings you enjoyed on the mountain-tops? Instead of wishing “good riddance” on a hard year, look with hopeful expectation for what God will do in 2017 to grow your faith (even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment).
I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite part of that chapter from Hebrews. Even though we feel like despising our circumstances (v.5) and grow weary of their pain (v.5), we can have confidence in our Good Father who allows this pain for our GOOD (v.10). “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Heb 12:12-13)
I’m praying for you today, that your drooping hands and weak knees will be strengthened, that your paths will be straight, and that you will know the love of our God in ways you never imagined before… even if there is pain along the journey.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! No matter what your circumstance today, you can be filled with overflowing joy and celebration.