How do I look ahead to a new year in the midst of ongoing challenges?

In the final days of 2017, I find myself reflective as so many are. This year has had more than its share of challenges, heartache and “opportunities for growth”. There has been joy, growth and achievement in there too but the overarching sense that I am left with is heavy and hard. Maybe you can relate to that this year. I am not despairing in this sense of heavy and hard and it has not buried me. There is still underlying peace and strength that carry me through but it requires constant intention to access that foundation. I pray that you are not drowning, even in the midst of the hard. 

Some who know me have made passing comments about how I must be looking forward to seeing 2017 end after such a tough year. I was agreeing to start with, however, the more I think about it, the more I’m not so sure. I realised that there was a danger to that way of thinking for me. It pinned my hopes on a date on the calendar for life to get easier, for the challenges to subside and for circumstances to change. There is no such magic date. The reality of the hard things from this year is that they will continue in 2018 and may even intensify. 2018 does not promise easy for me. The reality is that no year can ever make that promise. Life isn’t like that.

So do I choose to ignore the new year celebrations? Do I push aside hope? Do I put my head down and refuse to look ahead? Tempting. But not beneficial. I do choose to celebrate the year that has been and the year that is to come. I celebrate the moments of joy. I celebrate the growth. I celebrate the people in my life. I celebrate what I have learned. I celebrate the opportunities to come. I hold on to hope because I know my hope is not in the outcome by in the God who holds me through every outcome, the God who is still working in me and in those I love. I have hope because I know that when my spirit is overwhelmed within me, God still knows the path ahead (Psalm 142:3). I lift my eyes to the year ahead.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next offers a landmark for stopping and reassessing no matter what other circumstances are going on. It is a reminder to pay attention to what has been and have a dream or a goal or a vision for what lies ahead. So often that changes for me over the year as the unexpected comes up but the core of what I am focusing on continues. I will still make goals for next year. I will still seek to make changes to live life better. (I will be using Amanda Vivier’s “New Days Vision Book” to help me in this process if you want to join me.)

A part of my looking ahead to the new year for the past few years has been choosing (or maybe being found by is more accurate) one word to encompass what I want my year to look like and be shaped by. (You can read my reflections on 2017’s word, faithful, here.) For me, this is a prayerful process. I had been praying on and off for a word for 2018. I expected something forceful, inspiring and focused on work or strength. I did not expect “savour”. I kind of ignored it the first time but it keeps popping back and I am tentatively accepting it. 

Savour: to enjoy food or an experience slowly, in order to enjoy it as much as possible (Cambridge Dictionary)

The idea that has settled in my mind and heart is this need to savour all of life’s experiences, to create memories, to draw out the full pleasure, benefit and joy from my days. The dictionary definitions all talk about pleasureable experiences but I get the sense that I need to do this with the hard days too. My default is to push through the hard as quickly as possible, distracting and ignoring. Maybe savouring these days will allow me to process the pain and grow in ways I usually miss out on. To do this, I need to be present in my moments. I am going to have to get ruthless with my technology use. I am going to have to find ways to keep myself centred and clear my headspace. I am going to have to find ways to do what I need to do without the rush and hustle. If I’m being honest, I had half-deluded myself into thinking I already do this. I don’t. I am far from this point on an ongoing basis and these past few months have been particularly bad. I look forward to being more present and savouring my life.

And so I say goodbe to 2017. I look forward to 2018, not expecting life to be easier or less intense but embracing it for what it will be. I celebrate, hold onto hope and make time to reflect and make goals. I hold “savour” before me to be explored, unpacked and shaped by all it means. 

I would love to hear your reflections on 2017 and how you are looking ahead to next year or maybe your one word for next year in the comments.

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