Newness and Fear

You’d like to think that all this “newness” would be easy to embrace. You’d think that you would rush and run to throw yourself into the realm of possibility. 

And yet, this isn’t really the record of human beings. 

In fact, human beings—you included—tend to shy away from the new, even to resist it. 

In the gospels, immediately after Jesus feeds thousands upon thousands with only a meager amount of food—something “new” indeed—his followers fail in their faith, finding themselves terrified, first in the midst of a storm and then terrified even more when Jesus shows up and calms it!

In fact, Mark adds that “their hearts were hardened.” (And yes: that is the exact Biblical phrase that describes Pharaoh during the debates with Moses in the midst of the plagues.)

So give yourself a break: maybe the more typical human response to newness is to hesitate, to resist. Don’t beat yourself up because of it. 

What the disciples do manage to do is to keep on following Jesus in spite of their own failures and resistance. They overcome their shame of failure and just keep on doing their best, stumbling and fumbling until they encounter within themselves just enough faith to get by, to get out of the boat, to embrace the newness. 

So, maybe today, treat yourself gently and with compassion. Even if (especially if) you are failing to meet your own standards of responding to the newness of God. 

Classroom

Life is a classroom. You hear it over and over again. 

And yet, you get frustrated (and who wouldn’t?) when you have to learn seemingly the same lessons over and over again. 

It’s at this point where you have to be aware of the pitfall of pride, that may trap you and threaten to cut off your ability to learn and grow. 

You’d like to think that you have some graduated from this part of the program. It’s always tempting to believe that somehow you are immune from the “basics”, or the fundamentals. 

You want to believe that you are beyond these lessons, that they are below you. 

It is better for you if you resist these thoughts, and humbly accept the teaching and the lesson, as if for the first time. 

If you can embrace what life wants to teach you, you can always keep growing. Stay open, stay humble. Learn and move on. 

Newness, Part Two

A flip side of “newness”, and life with the God of the New, is that this newness is also meant to challenge the status quo. 

It doesn’t always have to ELIMINATE or DESTROY the present, but the very essence of “new” contrasts with “old”. 

As loving and adventurous and embracing as God is, He is also challenging. 

Mostly because you seem to have a preference for status quo, for stasis, for solid ground and comfort. 

Even this season right now—“Advent”, or waiting and anticipating the arrival of Jesus into the world—should be a time of asking yourself, “Where in my life do I prefer the old and the established?” 

Life constantly entraps you in cycles of consumerism, nationalism, violence, desire, and destructive self-centered living.

Life constantly entraps you in these cycles and convinces you that “this is the way the world works,” and it is important to admit to yourself THAT SOME PART OF YOU FINDS THIS COMFORTING. 

Then let the God of the new speak to that part. 

What cycle does God want to break you out of? Where does He desire your escape? 

Don’t be deceived, the old is not the way of salvation. The in-breaking, the new word, the new song, break with the past, this is the embrace to receive. 

Newness is Near

Some days are harder than others. 

Maybe you wake up late, maybe you lose your temper, maybe you spill your coffee, or get stuck behind too many red lights on your way to work. 

Whatever it is, some days you just get sideways. 

Maybe it’s a longer-term issue: maybe it’s a chronic illness, or sadness, or pain that just will not go away. Maybe it’s an ongoing addiction or struggle or cycle that you just cannot seem to break free from. 

Whatever it is, some days are just difficult. 

And when you feel those walls close in, or you feel yourself start to get out of wack, when you begin to feel your center begin to sway and dissipate, it is very, very easy to just go with that feeling, and to resign yourself to the “fact” that “this is the way it will be today.”

But that’s not necessarily true. 

Deep inside your mind, you know that faith and spirituality and life with this God is very much centered around “newness.” From an Exodus escape story of slaves to a baby born to Joseph and Mary, newness and innovation seem to be part of this God’s DNA, part of his method of operations. At one point in his story, he even flat out tells his people (in the middle of one of the darkest parts of their collective story), “Something new is happening, even now it is springing up.” 

This newness should serve as a reminder to you that some days actually do NOT have to twist you sideways and bring you down. Regardless of your morning, or your week, or your year, newness is always JUST RIGHT THERE. 

In fact, it’s really already present with you, inside your heart. 

Start with remembering the reality of the story of the God of newness. Receive it without skepticism, and choose to believe it. Then follow from there. 

Possibility

What is truly possible in your life? 

What new thing could happen? 

It will always be tempting—easy, even—to fall into complacency about your journey. There are things, damaged goods and broken toys, that have accompanied you for seemingly your whole life. You’ve asked yourself repeatedly, “When will I be free from these?” and then that question often leads you to another, more troubling one: “WILL I ever be free from these?”

After so many years, it is understandable that you would look on newness and possibility with a cynical, pessimistic eye. 

And yet…

And yet Advent—these weeks of contemplating, anticipating, and waiting for God’s incarnate presence on Earth—is truly about the unexpected surprise of possibility. 

Something NEW enters our world. 

And newness always changes the rules of the game. The old ways no longer quite apply; paradigms change, and equilibrium is moved. 

So regardless of how long you have struggled, regardless of the mountain of disappointment and the sea of cynicism, Advent—and the Christmas that follows—is a reminder that NEW is always possible. 

How can you look towards newness today? How can you embrace the potentially unheard of innovation in your life? 

Behold the light is coming. 

Compassion and Guidance

Early in Luke’s Good News story, he records the following words of a man named Zechariah, a beautiful poem/song of what is happening in the world: 

“Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”

Sometimes you need to get back in touch with the essentials, the simplicity of the spiritual life. Someone once said, “Give me the simplicity on the other side of complexity,” and on the other side of the complexity… 

… on the other side of all the doctrine

… all the denominations

… all the debates

… all the division and political factions

… on the other side of all that is the simple clear reminder of the Good News (when it really is “good news”): 

Out of God’s deep compassion, He is shining light onto the world, lighting it up. 

In the midst of our struggles, our challenges, our limitations, our brokenness and weakness, there is LIGHT. 

Light gives warmth, gives security, and—as the song/poem reminds you—guides you on the path… 

… of PEACE. 

On the other side of the all the complexity today, remember that God, the great compassionate Mystery of the universe is shining ON you, ALL AROUND you, and THROUGH you, and is present WITH you to guide you on the path of peace. 

Not anxiety, but peace. 

Not hatred, but peace. 

Not fear, but peace. 

Not insecurity, but peace. 

Compassion and guidance. 

Paradox in Growth

As you grow and heal, you actually experience MORE pain in your life, not less.

Most of the time, this is because you are more aware. We have a great and pervasive tendency to avoid any kind of suffering at all costs, and over time we become numb to the suffering that is actually NECESSARY in order for us to remain (or become) aware of our deep need for God.

But when you start to heal, your eyes are opened, and you start to see life more clearly. This includes the beauty and joy of life, but it also includes the pain and suffering, including your own.

This seems counter-intuitive, because you may have signed up for spirituality believing that it was a way to ELIMINATE suffering in your life, when ACTUALLY it’s not about ELIMINATING suffering, but rather redeeming it and giving it MEANING.

Which is about learning, and growing, and inviting God into it, being aware that He is intimately connected to it (probably more than you are!), and wants to give it meaning.

So don’t be surprised or shocked by increased feelings of pain, loneliness, frustration. Feel them, but invite God into them, and ask what these great teachers are trying to teach you.