Simply being alive as another year closes and a new one opens to us is a gift from God. Out of sheer gratitude for God's amazing grace, we are obligated to approach this folding of one season into another with hope. No matter what-or who-came and went during the past 12 months, no matter what transpired, we're still here, moving and breathing. We must not overlook that fact, even as we are hemmed in by the demands of the season.
The holidays' overemphasis on finances and family ties can cause some to fall into depression. Many of us have come to another year's end feeling loss and lack. Some are without that significant other, though we had convinced ourselves he was going to show up in shining armor in 2008. Somebody's child is overseas fighting a war. Maybe you're succumbing to the temptation to buy a gift for every Jill, Jack and Jane while also trying to figure out how to pay the heating bill. All these pressures can make you go into a cocoon at the very time you are expected to marvel at the magic and miracle of what God does in this season-and every season.
God is the great architect, designating the periods in nature and the passages in our lives. And God has decreed that our spiritual liberation should not be a solitary venture. During a holy season that this culture, sadly, has reduced to a frenzy of acquisition, we must devote ourselves to something bigger and bolder than our individual selves or even our intimate circle. My own prayer is that we, as a people, begin to really tackle the ills of our communities, of the whole diaspora, because the holy season ought to be about repairing what's broken.
We need to recognize those suffering with AIDS as our brothers and sisters and make sure they are comfortable. We have to look hard at the housing crisis and predatory lending. None of us can rest in our nice, neat McMansions until families battered and tossed by Katrina are out of those trailers and into healthy, clean homes of their own. We must think globally about environmental crises, worldwide poverty and all else that affects God's creation. We need to walk into this next year with a checklist of items crucial to our individual and communal uplift, just as we walk into a grocery store with a wish list of delicious things to fill up on.
Yes, it's all right at year's end to mourn unmet goals and dreams. But don't dare get stuck on the 20 pounds you swore you would lose but haven't, the wrinkle that's more visible each time you look in the mirror, the money you didn't manage to save. It's important to be aware that flaws and failures have their own distinctive beauty. When I was a little boy, one Christmas I put a suede jacket on lay-away for my mother. I cut grass and, from my earnings, paid on that jacket $5 at a time. I remember it had a tag that read, "The imperfections of this garment enhance its beauty. The imperfections are a natural part of the product." The imperfections are what made that jacket pretty.
God wants us to remember that our own imperfections add to our beauty. As the year closes, without punishing ourselves, we should embrace what has been, even as we rethink habits, relationships and objectives for the coming year. Meeting the new year with calm acceptance of what is-and excitement for what can be-is a wonderful thing, because our perfect God loves imperfect people and does His best work right there inside of them.
Bishop Jakes suggests these steps to make 2009 your best year ever:
1. Stop replaying in your head what you didn't achieve in 2008. This self-flagellation is destructive. Take a kinder end-of-year self-assessment: "What did I like about me in 2008? What did I learn?" Wait for the answers.
2. Take the focus off yourself by giving your time and your love. Volunteer in a prison, senior center or wherever your gifts can make a difference.
3. Be civil. Our society seems especially jealous and brutal these days, judging from sordid reality television shows and crime stats, including Black-on-Black crime. You can help change the tone.
4. Teach your children about managing life's highs and lows. Leaving them a financial inheritance is a fine intention, but the greater legacy is the imprint you leave on their hearts and minds.