I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m not opposed to them; it’s just that when I think of a new habit or practice I want to start, I tend to do it when I think of it, whether it’s January or June. But this year might be different.
On Christmas Day after we’d opened our presents and had our dinner, we all went to the living room to watch old home movies that my father had made on a VHS shoulder-mount camcorder thirty years ago. Those old movies contained nothing particularly exciting — a panorama of our backyard, my mother sitting in a lawn chair on the patio holding my sister, my father’s new propane grill, a long segment of me in my sandbox eating the sand. Skip ahead several scenes to my grandmother’s dining room where two of my great-grandparents, now deceased, are among those seated around the table.
It startled me to see them in the movie and to realize how quickly three decades can pass. It’s one thing to look at photographs of family members who have died; it’s an altogether ethereal experience to see them move and hear them speak. When the movie ended, I sat in my chair trying not to cry.
I have spent many Christmas Days going back and forth between the excitement of the season and hanging on the verge of tears. I blame my Christmas blues on the fact that the day marks time for me in a way unlike birthdays, the New Year, or any other anniversary. It cuts me down to the quick.
Christmas is the one time of year that I am with all my family, and I catch myself thinking about loved ones who are no longer here and wondering who might not be here next year. Absence fills the house with as much force as the loud chatter in the living room, the smell of food coming from the kitchen, and all the other signs of life around me. I am more aware than ever that time is moving on, and it’s moving faster than I’d like.
The old home movie helped me to see in a new way the truth of what James says: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14, NIV). What sobering news. I am a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
As I reflect on the past year with its successes and failures, gains and losses, I remember the moments of pain and also the ones filled with joy. I think about the many good people in my community who died, those who lost their jobs, and everyone else for whom life dealt a harsh hand. At the same time, I delight in the memory of a long walk alone on the beach one evening last fall and spending time in the company of family and close friends. As I look back over the year, I also look to the one to come and try to imagine what it might bring.
I have decided that were I to make a resolution this year, I would resolve to let life’s fleetingness guide my motives, actions, and decisions — to be kinder, more eager to give, quicker to help, more patient with others, and to spend more time with those I love. And instead of letting the rapid passing of time be an occasion for sorrow, let it be one of joy.
What if I welcomed the knowledge that I am only here for a short while? Instead of leaving me hollow and empty, what if it left me more eager to love and show compassion, more willing to help when called on? What if it left me joyful — joyful in gratitude to God for every moment I am given, no matter how many or how few; joyful in love for my family; joyful in the hope of life beyond this one; joyful in faith that I haven’t seen the last of my great-grandparents and all the others who have gone on?
This year, my hope for you and for me is that we find joy in all the sweet moments and the strength to endure the bitter ones. Here’s to the time we’ve been given, to old memories and to the new ones we will make, and to getting on well in the year to come. Here’s to the opportunity for a fresh start, a wiser mind, and a lighter heart.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What resolutions and plans do you have for the coming year? How will you include God in your plans?
2. Recall your favorite Christmas memory. Why is this memory your favorite?