Once again we are on the cusp of a new year, which looms large and challenging, yet promising, as new years usually are. This one, 2020, will be a leap year like 2016, which gave us plenty to worry about. Drumbeats are already alerting us to what may be ahead.
Most of us are familiar with the words “Ring out the old, ring in the new” from Tennyson’s famous elegiac poem In Memoriam. We like to repeat those words perhaps because they give us a sense that it’s possible to make a clean break with the past and start over anew. But there is more to a new year than a new start.
Our year is much like a story. In story writing, we are instructed about the parts that require our special attention: the beginning and the ending. Begin with a grabber, writing instructors tell us. Get the reader’s attention. And end with a denouement that leaves the reader satisfied. Our year usually begins with a flourish—a grabber of fireworks, celebrations with friends and family, ambitious resolutions, and great hopes. And at year’s end we rev up our faded energies, take stock, and valiantly salvage something worthwhile, sometimes even moralizing about what we’ve learned. As with writing stories, a year’s beginning and ending are good, but it is the in-between that really matters.
The middle portion of our year is where actual living takes place, where we find our center so that things do not fall apart at the end. Finding center in 2020 should be our main goal as we allow our spiritual eyesight to guide our actions. The middle is the place where we build relationships, share life with others, and give sincere service. Every day presents an opportunity to make our living matter. This is the part of the year where we can learn from the lives of those who have lived well before us. For example, Mother Theresa found her center by serving the poor in Calcutta. Understandably, that cannot be our center, but we can find our own Calcutta, small, limited, and even obscure, but a place to serve genuinely. As Queen Elizabeth II said in her Christmas Day speech, [it’s the] “small steps, not necessarily the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.” We can concentrate on the small things in the middle and make a difference.
This new year, what little thing can we introduce into our life to make the in-between more worthwhile? I read recently of a businessman who decided to give something away each day, so every morning he put one item in his pocket. It was just a small thing that he carried with him. Sometimes it was a pen, a trinket, or a ten-dollar bill. As the day went on, he looked for somebody to bless with his small item and gladden that person’s heart.
There’s always something we can give. It may be just a smile. One individual has said that our lives have the potential for being the smile of God. Think about it: our lives lived in cheerful service each day bringing a smile to the face of God. Not long ago, my son and I went to McKay’s Used Books (a great place to fill up a cart with good books). I parked next to a van with a couple in it, and as usually happens in this part of the country, we were greeted with a big smile from the gentleman behind the wheel. Before long we were exchanging pleasantries. When we got ready to go inside the store, the gentleman turned and picked up a fistful of small lollipops and handed them to me with a smile. He carries around lollipops to give away, and in a small way spreads cheer.
In the middle is where the heart of the action takes place in a story. Characters are developed, the plot becomes complicated, the theme is made clear. Likewise, in the year it is in the middle, during the time between, that we find our center by actively living, giving, learning, and serving. It is here that we show who we are and what we are made of. It is where we grow so that the year’s end finds us more fully developed than when we began.
The Apostle Paul’s motto was “This one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). It sums up his commitment to being centered in the gospel. In 2020, like Paul may we find our center and live well in the middle so that at year’s end we will be satisfied.
“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells across the snow;
The year is going, let it go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
from In Memoriam