Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Starting Over

This article is also in our parish newsletter this week. To read the rest of The View and see what's happening at St. John's, Decatur, click here.
Do you remember what it felt like to run up to the front of your school to check and see whose class you would be in and which of your friends were also in that class? Do you remember how special it felt to have all of your brand-new school supplies—pencils, folders, paper, glue, crayons, colored pencils—picked out and organized and ready for the first day? Do you remember how hard it was to go to sleep the night before the school year started? Do you remember how strange it felt to walk down the hall in a familiar place and surrounded by familiar people but somehow also experiencing everything as new and fresh and exciting?

Like many parents, I enjoy vicariously the start of school through my children. As we all count down the days, my excitement grows along with theirs. I know from experience that the freshness of that first day will quickly evaporate into the interminable regularity of the school year, so I choose to celebrate now. This is a wonderful week. Everything lies ahead of us. No one knows what this year will bring. There is a touch of fear attached to that uncertainty, but the overwhelming sense that comes with this new start is the joy of boundless opportunity that it brings.

When was the last time you felt like that—not through your children or grandchildren but for yourself? When was the last time you started over with a clean, fresh slate? Perhaps teachers feel that way every year. Maybe the rest of us get a dose of that when we move into a new house or start a new job. I suspect, however, that the closest we get to starting over on a regular basis is a new pair of shoes or a fresh haircut. Yet, as children of God, each day brings a fresh start, and it is up to us to let go of the past and look anew for God’s blessings and mercies.

As the poet writes in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Of all the poetry in the Hebrew scriptures, the Book of Lamentations contains both the bitterest pain and the liveliest hope of God’s people. Written in response to the total destruction and utter desolation brought to Jerusalem by the Babylonians, these laments are full of suffering and death, yet they yearn for comfort and promise. At funerals, we often hear that God’s mercies are new every morning, and the juxtaposition of our grief and God’s steadfast love is itself a remarkable statement of faith. A quick look at the surrounding verses in Lamentations 3 adds to the strength of that claim. The poet writes of broken bones and rotting skin, of being walled in by an enemy who has pierced his kidneys with arrows, of eyes that gush with unceasing rivers of tears, yet, in the midst of all of this suffering, he proclaims confidence in God’s salvation: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

How can this be? When we have been stuck in the same place of struggle for longer than we can remember, how can we expect tomorrow to be any different? For years we have prayed the same prayer, asking God to change our circumstances. What will make tomorrow any better? If we expect to wake up in a different world with different problems, we will be disappointed. God’s salvation is not magic, but tomorrow is itself a blessing. That there is a tomorrow—that today’s suffering is not the end of our story—is a sign of God’s mercy. There is possibility ahead of us. There is hope beyond today. With each new dawn, the light of promise breaks upon us. That the sun rises is a reminder that God’s salvation always lies ahead—that our best moments will always be in front of us.
Greet each new day as a gift. Even in the midst of struggle—especially in the midst of struggle—keep your sight fixed on tomorrow because God’s love never ceases. Don’t limit God’s mercies to what will happen in the next twenty-four hours, but remember that those mercies are new each day.

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