This year was a mess. I moved three times, got two new jobs, lost friends and made new ones, graduated from bible college, all the while working on my mental health, finances, and just generally keeping my life together. For most of us, this year has been strenuous. There’s been uncertainty around Covid-19 and vaccines; the world has had to radically re-evaluate how we live our lives as we’ve endured loss and hardship. I sit here only days away from the end of the year considering what comfort or insight (if any) I could offer. I’m at a loss. There’s no guarantee 2022 will be any better. Covid, I think, is here to stay. We may be moving to an endemic, yet the world we’re entering will be different to the one we left behind in 2019. I can’t predict what this new world will look like. What I can say is that spirituality, mental health, identity, and questions around humanity and community will be more important than ever before. Therefore, I believe it will be paramount to our journey through the new year to deliberately stop and not just throw ourselves into old patterns and cycles of being. We need to take stock of ourselves and of those around us and rally. If we go back to work, back to being a parent, back to whatever it is we do without thought and time we will certainly come to the end of ourselves in unhealthy ways.
Sabbath: Rule and Rest
On the seventh day, God blessed the work He had done and rested. When the Bible uses sabbath language, there is a lot of theological nuance at play. Sabbath means to rule and to rest. Ruling simply means to walk in that which God has called us. In Genesis 1 and 2, God has given the mandate for humanity to take care of the earth and to multiply (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). This only scratches the surface of what it means to rule, but simply put it means to partner with God in bringing about His loving kingdom through and over the earth. This is tied into what it means to image Him.
It’s hard to imagine that an all-powerful God needs to do something so mundane as rest. Nevertheless, here we have the creator of the universe taking a moment to bless and appreciate what He has achieved. God sees the sky, the land, every creature and human and He smiles, delighting in that which He has made even as He foresees the mess it will all become. Likewise, we can also sabbath, taking stock of our own achievements even if they are as small as getting out of bed. We can stand in front of the mirror and echo that which God has already declared: we are good.
Community: Church and Relationship
We are good. We. Individually you are good and image bound (Genesis 1:26), but the emphasis of the Bible is that collectively humanity is made in God’s image and together our potential is limitless (for good or for worse). The importance of meaningful friendship cannot be stressed enough. Other people, though they don’t define us, through God’s providence sanctify us and form us. During this season more than ever we need people around us to encourage us (Hebrews 3:13), correct us (James 5:19-20), and to guide us. Ideally, this is done through the local church. We come together throughout the week to minister to one another, to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to speak life. However, I am painfully aware of how difficult it can be for some of us to find a church to settle into. Not all of us fit the mould so well.
Meditation: Scripture and Wisdom
To borrow from the Bible Project, “Scripture is ancient Jewish meditation literature.” Scripture is a source in which we see the Good News, God, and Jesus most clearly. Having a relationship with God and Jesus certainly transcends Scripture, however, it is in the pages of the Bible that we can intelligibly make the most sense of Him. It is important to note that the Bible isn’t something we can simply pick up and understand. Yes, one can read the Bible and start off their journey well and come to grips with the most fundamental aspects of the Faith. Yet the Bible takes a life time of meditation and practice to embrace as you come to understand its complexity and allow God to use it to transform you. At its most basic level, the Bible is wisdom for the human to flourish in relationship with God, other humans, and the world around them. We must, therefore, take the time to allow what God is teaching us to seep into our very bones.
All of this would be utterly futile without God Himself. As we rule and rest, as we’re built up in community and love others (or struggle in isolation), as we meditate on the wisdom of Scripture, this must drive us to worship. 2021 has caused many of us to question God’s purpose in the pandemic, it has caused some of us to question His motives, and even His existence. Sabbath, community, and meditation create space for us to sit across from God and meaningfully engage with Him in ways we might not have if we just continued on in the way we have during 2021. That engagement might look like the Psalmist who dumps their depression and burdens on the Lord (Psalm 88), it might look like praise and joy. Whatever that engagement is, God is big enough to handle it. Pour a whisky, or sing aloud with joy, God wants to meet you there. Climb a mountain, or lay in bed, God wants to meet you there. Laugh or cry, God wants to meet you there.
Let the start of the new year be a time of transformation. Let us mourn for that which we have lost, and celebrate that which God has called us to. Be painfully human, but radically dependant on the grace and love of God in Christ as we eagerly anticipate His return in a time that is so full of brokenness.