On Monday of this week I combed through closets and drawers and shelves, searching for what could be gotten rid of; eager to make everything clean and clutter-free for the new year, as if trying to lay a foundation of perfection. I got out of bed as soon as I woke up and drank a lot of water before drinking my coffee. A few minutes later I was yelling at the dog, who jumped all over me with muddy paws. Lunchtime brought a heated debate with my five year old, who was dissatisfied with his meal. And the chronic stomachache that’s been plaguing me off-and-on for weeks (months?) now, which seemed to be better this morning, has already returned.
I have made New Year’s resolutions but rarely–and kept them almost never–but when I glance through the scrawled-over calendar of the ‘old’ year, noting goals set and achieved (or missed), appointments forgotten and kept, and start a fresh, new one, I cannot help longing for a certain kind of perfection: worthy goals to be set boldly and achieved uniformly and excellently; bad old habits to be expunged; good new ones to be formed. No more yelling at my kids. No more undignified stewing over petty things. And certainly no more wasting time: that precious stuff of which this life is made.
There’s an old Peanuts comic strip somewhere in which Linus–I think it’s Linus–is rifling through old calendars and discovers one that seems to match the new year’s calendar. “This isn’t a new year at all!” he protests. “We’ve been stuck with an OLD YEAR!” He sits down to write a letter of complaint, and then, stumped, asks, “Who’s in charge of years?”
There really is no such thing as a “new year,” is there? There is, of course, always hope. There is always the promise of change. But there is also brokenness and pain and fallibility that follows us from one place to another, from one day to another, from one year to the next and the next. And yet how comforting it is to believe that we might finally kick our bad habits and be somehow made into new and better versions of ourselves.
I suppose that beneath the longing for being ‘better’ in a new year–or a new day–is the Christian hope, to which I cling, of a “new heavens and a new earth,” of hearing the glorified Christ say, “Behold, I make all things new.” It is not that I do not treasure this life, this imperfect and impermanent life, for it is its very imperfection and impermanence that makes it so precious. How quickly will my five year old be arguing with his five year old about exactly how many bites must be eaten before leaving the table? One day the dog will be arthritic and incapable of jumping on me in that exuberant puppy way, and I will miss her ridiculous muddy paw prints on my pajamas from her overexcitement over her coming breakfast. One day my home will not be cluttered with bits of paper and crayon and Lego, and I will miss it all.
So I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I just try to think, along with the inimitable Anne Shirley, that “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet,” knowing full well that there will be mistakes by the end of the day and that all of these days and years, somehow, in ways I don’t pretend to understand, will be repaired, renewed, redeemed, and even remembered by the God who collects each tear in a bottle even as that same God promises to wipe each tear away. That God who is faithful when I am faithless, who gives grace when I am ungracious, whose love endures forever.