The holidays are over, and the new year is here. Traditionally, the masses welcome it by drinking champagne, singing “Auld Lang Syne,” watching the ball drop in Times Square, and kissing or getting kissed by total strangers. There’s a sense of relief in having made it through the old year, and a sense of hope in anticipating the new one.
As for me—well, I am usually in bed by 9:00 p.m.
It’s the classic head-in-the-sand approach: if I can’t see something coming, it’s not really there.
While I absolutely love the Advent season, I always seem to face the new year with apprehension. What I am trying to understand is why. Actually, I am pretty sure I already know why, though I am reluctant to admit it: I think the reason is fear. And part of that fear is not having any choice, any control—because I don’t have any choice or control over the new year; I must go forward into the future, even if I’d rather not.
To me, the unknown new year is a wide, gaping chasm, and I have no other option but to step into it. I feel like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, standing before an abyss, with his father’s notes telling him he must “leap.” But the void is too wide to leap across, even with a running start, a good pair of Air Jordans, and a pole vault. Indy has no choice: the only way forward is to step off the cliff, into thin air.
Yeah—it’s like that.
I can’t help but wonder as I face this year: What surprises might be in store? What catastrophes might befall? When the phone rings unexpectedly, will it bring news that is happy, or horrific? And at this time next year, what will life look like?]
Just like every other year, I know this one will include both tears and laughter, gains and losses, but I don’t know how or when.
And that is what scares me—the unknown.
I fear it.
It’s the fear of a roller-coaster ride in pitch blackness—when you can’t see the track in front of you.
The Israelites faced a similarly unknown future at the edge of the Promised Land. They had sent twelve spies to scope out the land, to see how fruitful it was and to assess the military strength of its inhabitants. And the results were positive, at least regarding the land’s fruitfulness. But the inhabitants were, you might say, a big issue. Ten of the twelve spies reported: “All the people we saw there are of great size….We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).
And their words struck fear into the whole nation of Israel.
But two spies, Joshua and Caleb, disagreed:
‘Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Num. 13:30)
I can see it now – ten spies, rushing wide-eyed back to camp with the terrifying report: “You won’t believe these guys. They are GI-NORMOUS! They’ll smoosh us like bugs.”
Then the minority has the guts to step up and say, “We can take ’em.”
Fortunately Joshua, the Israelites’ future leader, listened to faith, not fear. Later, when he commanded the people to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, the thought of smooshed grasshoppers littering the desert was probably still in their minds. But just before they crossed, God gave Joshua this assurance:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9)
And based on Joshua’s faith and God’s promise, they did cross over.
So how can we move from fear to faith? There is only one way: like Indiana Jones and the Israelites, we must close our eyes and step into the void, acknowledging that anything—anything—could happen. This year could be the greatest year ever, or just another average rotation around the sun, or an absolute disaster. It’s a roll of the dice.
Well, correct that. It’s not up to the dice. It’s up to God. With each new year, and each new day, we must consciously remind ourselves to place our lives yet again into his hands—no matter what happens, good, bad, or ugly—and proclaim: “God is good.”
Simply put, the only way to move from fear to faith is to obey his command and absorb his promise:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”