I set out today to write about New Year’s Day and the blank wall it seems to offer each year. I sat and stared at that blank wall, thinking, “Well, there’s that then. Time to get on with the big bright shiny blank new year.”
It’s not really blank, you know. There are variations in the paint, chips here and there, maybe a faded handprint, if I look real close. I might spend too much time looking at it real close, finding the variations, finding the handprint. I forget, in those times of looking close, that the wall isn’t the thing. I stare at that blank wall for a long time, thinking about how to fill it, thinking about what to hang, how to paint, putting in a window or a fireplace. How hard would it be? How expensive? How long will it take? How messy?
When I look into the start of the new year, sometimes it’s a blank wall I see. Other times it is a dark and deep hole in the ground. How deep is that? I wonder to myself. I drop some coins into it. I listen for the plink into water or thud into the dirt, at the bottom. It does not always come. I peer into the dark a long time, waiting for my eyes to adjust, making out anything possible, anything moving, anything bearing just a little light.
I woke up today cranky, and it was not because I stayed up too late, or at least, I do not think that’s the reason. I moved through my familiar shuffle to the coffee pot. I greeted the now fully-waked children, who were already deep into the new box of cereal. I poured out a little prayer as the coffee dripped into my cup. Morning always seems promising. The first coffee bolsters that promise. The “New Year” catches me in a current, and I am riding it– so far, so good. But it doesn’t last, and my cranky mood takes over. What is it? I think to myself.
I know what it is. I remember it now as I sit to examine the sharp tone of my reprimands, the exasperation when I see the stack of dishes in the sink already, the tightness in my chest when, despite my best intentions, I find myself comparing my “New Year’s Eve” to the pictures I see on the computer, my last year to everyone else’s last year. It’s a new year. Why am I still so far from the goal?
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
After the second cup of coffee, a closing of the social media windows and maybe one more round of “why” I make a slow descent into prayer. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stare at that blank wall. I’d rather stare into the deep well in the ground. It’s astounding how fruitful that promise of the blank wall or the deep dark hole in the ground seems and yet, we both know Henri Nouwen is right when he tells us about the descent into the heart through prayer, don’t we?
“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seing, within you.”
— Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart
The start of the calendar New Year is a trap for me. It sets up a false expectation that change came in the night while the fireworks went off while the clock hands moved past midnight while my children slept soundly in their beds. Resolutions are made whether I meant to make them or not. Force of habit. Promises, not kept from last year, resurrect like zombies rising, arms outstretched and groaning. Remember me? They say, with voices that are eerily familiar from years of repetition. But it’s a trap. The idea that I woke to a blank wall or a deep well that formed while I slept and that the world somehow “reset” is flawed, at best. I just don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. It’s too expensive a cost because it is such a large purchase every year.
But the descent into the heart– not a deep staring into the dark once a year, but a daily, “new every morning” kind of looking, that’s an investment worth making, no matter what day of the year it is. The blank wall will be there, but great is His faithfulness. The deep dark holes in the floor will open up, but great is His faithfulness. The turning of time on the calendar will continue, along with the many and varied ways I can showcase my failings, but great is His faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness.