I need to start with a confession: I’m not sure I’ve ever been more ready for the change to a new year. I know it’s arbitrary, this one day. I know, I say every Sunday – each day is a new beginning, as is each moment. I still believe that.
But this year, this marker of time – one year to the next – it feels like it matters more than usual – I feel this collective need to let go, to start again, and to set ourselves and our lives on a new course.
2017 has been a hard year, for many of us. Therapists and counselors talk about a meaningful increase in people needing extra support for anxiety or depression, and for struggles in their marriages, and as parents. The New York Times recently reported
there has also been a meaningful spike in anxiety in teenagers and in pre-teens.
It’s not easy to be a person of any age these days – and there’s no one precise reason.
Personal stories of struggle, change, and loss, are mixed together with all the social reasons – a less stable government and country – especially for those of us on the margins, along with the high incidents of natural disasters across the globe – paired with a lack of political will to deal with climate change or the insights of science – at all, and all this combined with a growing loss of trust in our neighbors, and an increasing sense of isolation, and loneliness.
We live in challenging times.
Being a leader in this church over the last 12 months has allowed me often to witness much of this up close and personal. In conversations and emails and texts with many of you, and in our work for economic, immigration and racial justice. The stories of struggle and also strength have been piling up in my heart, and in our collective hearts as we try to stay awake to all that life asks of us.
Much of the year has been intense – and sometimes that has been – so beautiful. Because it has been a challenging year, but I would also say, it’s been one of the most impactful and vibrant years this church has ever known.
From voting to be a sanctuary congregation and companioning Ingrid, to delving more deeply into our spiritual growth in small groups and classes and in our worship together – to committing to each other and our mission in new and bigger ways, this year we learned that courageous love often requires a capacity to live with a certain degree of pain, and grief, while also remaining open to grace.
It has been sometimes harder than I think we would’ve anticipated, but also we have been for each other in big and small ways, signs of hope, and encouragement – and that is the part that is beautiful, and inspiring.
A couple weeks ago, I heard an interview with Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine.
She was talking about the #metoo movement – the movement bringing to light the stories of misconduct, harassment and assault that have been too long protected in silence and secrecy.
The interviewer asked her about where this cultural “moment” would go next, and what it would really mean, and Traister responded by saying that it would mean nothing if it was really only a moment. She said, “anyone interested in making sure that this conversation help[s] transform the power structures and dismantles the injustices should be aware that they’re signing up for a project that’s going to last their entire lives. I’m not exaggerating,” she said. “This is a long haul.”
Traister’s words have stuck with me because I think they could be said about so much of what has happened this year – in our church, in our country, in this world. So much of what’s been revealed cannot be fixed by way of a better new year’s resolution, or even by a transformational mid-term election, and not even with an election of a new President.
We are living in long haul times, and this work – whatever work of courageous love is calling to each of us, and our shared work – this work is going to last our whole lives.
And so my question lately has been about how we’ll sustain ourselves and one another through this long haul.
I know that many of you are hikers – my family and I love hiking, too. This past summer my son and I did some longer trips, but not too long – he’s only 9 – so we haven’t yet gotten more than 8 or so miles. But I bring this up because I’ve realized that the pack you can easily carry at 3 or 4 miles becomes a lot harder at mile 8 or 9, especially if some of those miles are at higher elevations, or require a scramble.
Which is particularly challenging because actually when you’re hiking longer, you need a lot more stuff – you need more water and snacks and more gear for weather.
Which means, the longer the journey, the more thoughtful you need to be about what you take with you, and even more, what you leave behind.
As we mark this one year passing into the next, we have a great opportunity to consider this question of how we will sustain ourselves for this work work that will last our whole lives.
We have this chance to consider with intention what we will need to sustain this path – a path that will surely involve at least a few scrambles – that already has – and most importantly what we should leave behind and let go if we’re going to maintain the
strength, endurance, agility, and balance to keep going, even when the terrain is rough and the road feels endless.
The idea of letting go can sound simple. But as the monk in our story reminds us, a lot of times we can end up carrying stuff that we never even wanted to pick up in the first place. Stories and worries and regrets that accumulate, and tire us, so that even if we are still able to make the journey, it’s with less joy than it could’ve been, as our packs are too heavy, and there’s not enough room for the stuff that we actually need.
So let us take this chance to reflect on this past year. Consider what we need to leave behind today on the brink of this new year. What we need to let go of.
What parts of your life – what story, or experience, feeling or worry – or what habits, or ideas are weighing you down and keeping you from living the life that you long for? What is taking up space in your pack for the long haul that would be better reserved for something you truly need? Now’s the time, let it go. And let’s keep going, one step at a time.