New Year Camping

I’ve always found New Year to be a bit fraught.

I suppose there’s a few things going on here. Sometimes I wake up and the demands of one day can feel overwhelming. But with the advent of January 1st, suddenly there’s  365 of the little blighters, yapping at my heels and demanding to be fed. It’s too much! I’m not ready for 2010, let alone 2011. 

The calender marker stirs up all sorts of hopes and fears and worries about who I am, what I’m doing with my life, where I’m going – and it’s all a bit much. How will I cope? I worry about the things I already know are in the diary – but what’s even scarier are the things I don’t know about, that I can’t plan for. The ‘what-if’s?’ that pop up in the early hours of the morning when you can’t sleep. My temptation is to crawl back under my duvet and wait for the year to pass. But whilst in practical terms this isn’t really an option, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, it would be very easy to just tread water, not just this year, but for the rest of our lives. Making resolutions? Why bother. I’ll only break them and end up feeling worst than I started. Far better not to bother at all. To poddle along, refusing to move beyond my comfort zone, living a safe but muted life, head tucked below the parapet.

The alternative is equally seductive, but just as dangerous. I feel I fall short of the mark in a whole range of areas – from the superficial, (how I look), to what really matters, (how I relate to the Lord and others). For someone like me, New Year is exactly the excuse I need to improve and redeem myself, whether it’s using a new haircut or a Bible reading plan. From the TV to the shopping centre, salvation through self-improvement is championed on every corner. Here are the answers to the meaning and security that I’m missing, surely? Some are more obvious than others. As a recovering anorexic, I’m wary of new year diet plans and fitness programmes. But whilst the shape of my struggles (using food as a way of handling stress), may have changed, it’s all too easy to channel the same drives into other, more functional idols. The heart that vows to rule itself can still be clenched in a fist against the Lord, even if it’s gloved.

So – how do I cope with the year ahead? By opting out of life and retreating to the safety of a very tiny world? (I’m rubbish, I can’t do anything so why even bother?)
Or through slavish adherence to a timetabled system of self-improvements? (I can save myself, I can make it work, I deserve better than this?)

I’ve been reading recently about a condition called ‘anomie’. This is where those living far from home start to behave in ways that contradict and undermine their usual values. In some expat communties for example, sexual immorality is the norm, as people shed their usual fidelity along with their luggage. It’s easy to condemn this. But as a Christian, I often do the same thing. At the start of the New Year, surrounded by admonitions and exhortations towards self-transformation, I forget who I am. That I’m owned and loved and guided by the Living God. That this world and its values are not mine. That, like Abraham, I’m to follow the Lord’s call beyond my comfort zone, to live as a tent-dweller in the world, not to get settled. But as I do this I’m reminded too, that like Abraham venturing into the unknown, I can trust the Lord with the days ahead. He has already cleansed me and called me precious. So I don’t need to try and undo my own excesses – whether that’s too much Christmas pudding or a heart that wants to go its own way. And I don’t need to be afraid of the future either. Bring on 2011! (at least until tomorrow).

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