Wrestling with year-end demons

by Dwayne Hastings, National Correspondent |
Fireworks light up the sky over Copacabana beach during New Year celebrations in Rio de Janeiro January 1, 2015. According to local media, more than two million people gathered along Rio's most famous beach to witness the 20-minute display and celebrate the beginning of a new year. | REUTERS/Mauro Pimentel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- This is the time of the year when every news outlet encourages us to look back, sometimes with morbid fascination, at what happened and who died during the year.

I have to admit I can sometimes get hung up looking back--without any outside prompts, either.

A car we owned while I was in seminary was mechanically sound but cosmetically suspect. One of its issues was a missing rearview mirror. The glue holding the mirror onto the windshield deteriorated to the point the mirror could no longer hold on. While I eventually purchased the glue necessary to affix the mirror back to the glass, I learned a rearview mirror isn't absolutely necessary to be a good driver.

It was a funny way to find out that looking back can be overrated at times especially when it involves us going back in our mind and getting stuck there.

Don't misunderstand me, we can't deny the past. A healthy reflection on the year's new cycle and our own life is appropriate. But, I've realized on more than one occasion I have a tendency to get stuck looking back—not in my repaired rearview mirror—but in life.

If we are not careful end-of-year contemplations on life's transitions can put us in a funk and weigh us down with remorse and regret over what did or didn't happen. There aren't many people, if any, who can honestly consider the last 12 months or 12 years of their life and say they did everything they should have done during the period.

If we keep looking backward we can be easily overwhelmed with the opportunities we've missed and missteps we've taken. And I know the old adage that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but there's a big difference between remembering the past and obsessing over it.

To mark the place where a significant historical event occurred the Israelites often would construct a monument of stones as a reminder to future generations of God's sovereignty. Yet the Jews didn't just sit there and stare at the memorial; they moved on, confident of God's provisioning in their lives.

We can reminisce about the past, learn from the past, but we can't just live in the past. As difficult as it can be, it is helpful to remember that God is using every moment of our life to grow us in Christ's likeness. I must remind myself that tough life changes often bring great blessings.

We can get too caught up in the frightening cycle of "should have" and "could have." When we get stuck in the past and begin wrestling with things we have no control over, our emotional, spiritual and physiological growth can be stunted.

When your "meant to" bucket is full, it's time to hit the reset button.

If you never set aside time for a family worship time, personal devotions or the physical exercise that you meant to, be purposeful and intentional in the new year. But don't rush into it and don't bite off more than you can handle or you'll be overwhelmed and find yourself in the same position in the waning days of 2015.

As Jesus launched His earthly ministry, He didn't mince words when some asked for a temporary reprieve to take care of some household matters before following Him. He told them, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). This is a harsh teaching but it reveals the context of an authentic, radical relationship with Christ.

When Jesus calls us to a task, it is best not to be found looking back.

The Apostle Paul summed it up well when he portrayed his pursuit of God's will for his life as a footrace, writing to the church at Philippi: "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead... the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13).

Not following Paul's example is the evangelical equivalent of walking the aisle and never leaving the front of the church. There's a limit on your Kingdom value if you never move.

Live in the day but anticipate tomorrow.

But be careful—it's as destructive to obsess over tomorrow as it is to live in the past. Scripture says, "Tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matthew 6:31-34). A hard lesson: Lower your anxiety level; trust God for all the tomorrows. He's already there (Luke 12:25).

So how can we have a more fulfilling year in 2015? Most importantly, we can heed Christ's call to selflessly follow Him (Luke 9:62) and live each day in a way that pleases Him.

JOURNAL—When you keep track of where you've been, you're less likely to disappoint yourself by getting off track. While pen and paper are time-tested tools for journaling, consider using technology and well-designed apps, such as Day One or Momento for the task.

SERVE—Regularly volunteer. Social needs ministry are often overrun with offers of assistance during the Christmas season but go wanting the rest of the year. If you've traveled a difficult road, you'll be well prepared to minister to others who are walking that same road (2 Corinthians 1:4). If there's not an opportunity connected with your place of worship, look around your community for ministries or visit Christianvolunteering.org.

CALENDAR—Do it the old-fashioned way or use your smartphone to program your year with events with your family or friends. If you don't have something to look forward to, you run the risk of getting stuck looking back. Don't let next year slip by without doing some of the things you wished you had done this year.

If you're grieving over a loss you suffered during the year, that is something entirely different. With the assistance of your family and friends, you are moving through an important–and often slow– process of healing.

If there is something in your past that weighs you down, give it to God. He will redeem your past for His plans are "to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).