Fun fact about me. I hate New Year’s. If my kids were reading this, they would tell me, “We don’t say the word ‘hate’, Mom.” But since they aren’t perusing my blog these days, I think I’m good. Besides, I really do hate New Year’s.
These feelings go beyond the overly hyped up and inevitable disappointment of New Year’s Eve. My disdain for the New Year has more to do with the endless expanse of nothing that awaits from January 1st forward.
It doesn’t excite me to imagine a year of possibilities.
It doesn’t recharge me to make resolutions.
It doesn’t get me fired up to set goals.
It actually makes me terrified. Paralyzes me. And brings out the most pessimistic part of me. I envision all of that blank space before me and kind of want to throw up. Some people see it and think, “Imagine what we could do with the whole year before us!” I see it and think, “Imagine what could happen in the whole year before us.” And then feel an impending sense of doom.
My husband thinks I am slightly neurotic. Which I may be. Slightly. But I also consider myself a bit of a realist. And I have been around long enough and learned enough stories to know, that for as high as the hopes are that we all have for the new year, more than a few of us will be blindsided by an unexpected loss or hurt that will leave us reeling for at least the remainder of the year. And maybe beyond.
January 1st is beautiful in its expectation. And terrifying too.
(Have you picked up my neurosis yet?)
One of my favorite verses in Scripture is from the book of Isaiah. In it the prophet writes this about the Lord, “But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard” Isaiah 52:12 NIV).
I love the picture this verse paints—of a God who is literally on all sides. Who surrounds us. Who hems us in. Who leaves no part of our future and no part of our past untouched by His presence.
This verse is good news for people like me, who like looking back far more than they like envisioning the future, but also gives us a picture we don’t normally envision of God. God goes before us, it says, which we’ve probably heard before. But the real magic may be in the part where we don’t always expect God to reside. The looking back part. There too, it says, God is. Guarding us. Protecting us.
And here is what I think that means for those of us who see fresh starts as a cause to panic. I think there very well may be things this coming year that mess with our security, our peace and our very lives. Things that shake our beliefs and rattle our spirits. But this verse suggests those things do not write the end of our story. Because come next December 31st, when we look back, we will see God went before us in this empty and vast expanse of a year, but also that He stayed behind us—allowing us to see the year before and all it brought, with His fingerprints all over it. Nothing that went before—and now lies behind—can be viewed a part from His grace and redemption in the midst of it and beyond it. And nothing that’s coming will be encountered without Him.
We’re surrounded. In the front. In the back. In all sides.
That means when my fear kicks in every New Year, I have something to combat the feeling. And I don’t fight it by saying things like, “You’re being irrational, that will never happen!” It means I reign in the weightier “what if’s”, the very possible, even if unlikely, “what if’s”, with God’s promise of presence, rather than the (nonexistent) promise of protection from hard things.
For a lot of people, this year will hold hard things—for us personally, for our kids, for our marriages, for the world. We may lose our jobs, our home, our financial nest egg. We may find our kids diagnosed with a game changing learning disability, debilitating food allergy or crippling social anxiety. We may face a darker year with our spouse than we imagined possible. We may face a darker world that we believed humanity capable of.
Because, it turns out, there is a lot to fear.
But in all the fear, there are certain certainties. Well, at least one—one we can take to the bank. One we can find solace in no matter what happens between January 1st and December 31st.
We have a God who goes before. And we have a God who stays behind. And no matter what is coming or what has already come, His presence is sure, even when it doesn’t feel likely.
We can walk unafraid into the future, because we are not alone. And we can look back at whatever this year holds, unafraid too. Because when we look back we will see evidence of God who was there all the time. Even when it didn’t feel like it. Even when it all got dark. Even when it all felt more overwhelming than we were equipped to handle.
A God before and a God behind is the best kind of God for the coming year. Because that makes a present God.
So cheers, to that. To the unknown, to the uncertain, to the whatever that lies ahead.
You are not alone this coming year. And you were never alone in the years before. And where nothing else may feel right, you can be sure this is.