on expectations and the new year

It’s a new year. FINALLY.

I love the feeling of a new year. But in a not-so-great way, as the end of a year approaches, I find myself reflecting back on all the ways that the last year didn’t quite meet my expectations – the ways I was hurt, the things I wanted to happen that didn’t happen, and the things I’d rather not remember. As 2019 came to a close, I found myself looking forward to 2020, counting on it to be a better year than the last. 

Maybe you find yourself doing this too? Placing expectations on the new year to be a year of a better you, a better relationship, better finances, a better spiritual life. But I wonder if these practices of resolutions and planning and goal-setting and forward thinking can cause more harm than good?

Someone asked me yesterday if I had any resolutions for the new year.

I hesitated a bit before I told them “no.” But, I told them, it’s not because I haven’t thought about it.

I have a tendency towards discontent. I can so easily look back on the last year and see all the things I would change. Don’t get me wrong, 2019 was filled with so many good and beautiful things, and I don’t want to discount that. But it was also a heavy and dark year. And as the end of the year approached, I found myself thinking “thank goodness it’s almost over.”

Along with that discontent comes a tendency to put big expectations on the new year, hoping desperately that all the things that went wrong last year – and all the things that are wrong with me – will change with the flip of a calendar page.

I hope this year we won’t face any more days of depression and anxiety.

I hope this year our ministry will be easier and smoother.

I hope this year we’ll have more financial security and stability.

I hope this year our marriage will be better.

I hope this year I’ll be less over-committed, more restful, more mindful.

I hope this year I’ll be the kind of person who can make homemade meals and who runs and does yoga and who reads her Bible every morning.

These hopes and expectations circle around in my head and I find myself looking towards 2020 with such confidence… “YES, surely this will be the year…the best year” 

But the truth is that everything won’t be better in the new year. 2020 will be filled with its share of dark and heavy days. There will be unanswered prayers and unmet expectations. There will be conflict and tears, like any other year.

But what I do pray is different in 2020 is that I will be able to face the inevitable ups and downs with confidence, hope, and joy. Because honestly, the only thing that is actually in my control is my perspective on the things that are happening in my life; my ability to look to Christ, trust God, and find contentment and joy in every situation.

When I think about the new year, the word that comes to mind is JOY. In some ways I feel like I am speaking this word over the year as an act of angst against the last two years of heaviness. But, if anything, I think the difficultly of the last two years has shaped my understanding of what real joy is.

Joy is not a fake smile you paste on even when things are hard. It’s not a glib or shallow feeling of happiness that you stir up within yourself.

Rather, joy is a deep, abiding confidence in the truth of what we truly have to be joyful about. The truth that our God is kind and compassionate and gracious towards us when we are undeserving. The truth that no matter what comes – suffering, blessing, pain, gifts – all are from the good and kind hand of God and are meant for our ultimate good. The truth that our only contentment and satisfaction is found in knowing God and growing in intimacy with him.

It’s this kind of joy that I hope to pursue this year. That’s my only goal.

So, for me and for you, I hope 2020 is a year of JOY. 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
– 1 Peter 1:3-9

May the new year bring you a new depth of understanding of God’s abundant love and inexhaustible grace towards you. May you hold your expectations, goals, plans, and resolutions loosely, acknowledging that both the good and the bad will come this year from the loving and kind hand of God. May you endeavor above everything else this year to GROW in your knowledge of and love for God.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

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