I met the New Year with the raised eyebrow of a cynic. As midnight approached, the cacophony of clanging pots, shrill party horns, and top-of-the-lungs screaming—no firecrackers in Davao City—did little to excite me. What’s the big deal, I told myself, it’s just the calendar that’s changing.
It’s the same thing year after year: People get reflective, retiring to a corner with pen and paper to enumerate what will invariably become a set of broken promises after a few months. It’s as if they sense a magic in the cold air potent enough to transform couch potatoes to exercise buffs; tame the tongues of gossipers; bestow restraint to the reckless; convert the corrupt and dishonest; and yes, even bring about world peace. Eyes twinkle with optimism, albeit temporarily.
Not me. This time around I decided New Year’s Eve will just be another midnight. There won’t be any contemplation about the bygone year. I ate the cholesterol-rich food on the table. I joined my family in a prayer of thanksgiving, greeted and kissed them Happy New Year. And then off to bed I went, as in any other night.
That was two New Years ago. I dug up the above from journal files in my computer. Interestingly, I do not feel the same way this time around. This year, it was still a silent-night New Year’s Eve in Davao (but, alas, we did hear a lone firecracker “boom” around midnight courtesy of a stubborn reveler nearby). Half-an-hour past midnight, after the rest of the family had gone to bed and the neighbors had grown tired of manufacturing noise from cans, pots, and horns, I sat by the dim light in the living room. There, to pray–sometimes whispering the words, most of the time tapping away on my computer. Sentiments were cluttered, emotions hard to sort, and memories hazy. But, like an unpleasant chore that couldn’t be put off any longer, the yearend reflection just had to be done. For my heart’s sake…
Earlier in the evening, I went to church with my mother. My brother preached from David’s psalm: “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71, New Living Translation). This, coming from the king who’s made unspeakable mistakes in his life (including adultery and murder!) and who has had to reap painful consequences from them. Perhaps it’s psalms like this that show why, despite his monumental wrongs, David was given the distinction, “the man after God’s own heart.” From the pain of discipline and seasons of affliction, King David learned to cherish the beauty of God’s precepts.
Give thanks about my pain? Sure, why not. No, no, not the shoulder-shrugging, almost-sarcastic “Gee, God, thanks for the suffering” kind of response; but the kind that cries out: “Oh, Lord, if not for your grace-ordained affliction, I wouldn’t have survived and grown wiser.”
There is a far greater tragedy than tragedy itself: the pride that keeps us from being broken and running to God for wholeness.
* * *
Before the service started, I was looking at the program and saw the songs we would be singing. A hymn came to mind that I wished we would sing, but it wasn’t there on the program. As the service wound down, the overhead projector flashed familiar words, the pianist played an unmistakable melody, and, to my pleasant surprise, the song leader led us in singing the hymn I had hoped we’d sing! Here are that hymn’s words, from memory:
I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside him
For he knows what is ahead
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand
Happy New Year! And may you choose to anchor your hopes in the One who holds your tomorrows and holds your hand.