2016: A Year in Spiritual Review
December 30, 2016
by Andy Littleton
I’ve heard 2016 referred to as a “dumpster fire” of a year. Not only is that my new favorite way to describe awful things, but also it is so interesting to me how universally we can agree that this year was ROUGH.
Don’t get me wrong- maybe this was the best year of your life, and I actually hope it was! But for me, it was a doozy.
I feel like my adulthood leveled up and asked more of me than I expected.
I dealt with painful loneliness and hard relationships.
I had a lot of stress induced health issues.
I had a breast tumor scare.
Family members have been diagnosed with serious illnesses.
I’ve been battling depression.
And in general, I’ve had the big question: is this really what I want my life to look like?
Not to mention all the tragedy going on in our world. All the injustice and death has deeply burdened my heart.
It has been utterly overwhelming!
A bittersweet comfort is that I am not alone in thinking that this year was difficult.
Even the university I do ministry at agrees with me!
Pictured above is a recent front page of the University of Arizona’s newspaper, The Daily Wildcat.
I do spiritual and leadership development with college students in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, so I am often on campus paying attention to the comings and goings of university culture.
What struck me most about the front page was the phrase “the end is near.” For the newspaper of a liberal secular campus to jokingly communicate an eschatological stance implicates something much deeper going on in our souls.
No matter our spiritual backgrounds, we are all either crying out for the end to come, or for a brand new day!
We want things to be made right.
It is hard to be hopeful as the bad news piles up in a mountain of trash for the dumpster fire seasons of life.
So what do we do?
I have some thoughts…
Don’t ignore the hard stuff.
Jesus came to bring us abundant life, and a part of that is dealing with the hard stuff in a healthy way. In order to take good care of ourselves, we need to make space to lament the difficult things and seasons of life.
Recently, I had a hard night where all my deep insecurities and dissatisfaction rose to the surface. As I cried out to God, I told him, “Okay God, tonight is going to be my one night where I spill all of this out. Because I know you better. I know you love me and have good gifts for me. But I am not happy with the way things are right now. What are you going to do about it?” I needed a night to let all the darkness come pouring out of my soul, in order to lay it at the feet of my Father. If you need more than a night, take it! We need to practice running to Jesus and resting well in Him.
Look back on the hard situations of this year and consider what you may have learned or can still learn from them.
James, the brother of Jesus says something very frustrating and yet very wise in the New Testament,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Obviously, this is easier said than done. But let me share an example how this has come into play in my life in 2016.
In my experience of deep loneliness, I decided it would be in my best interest to run to Jesus and trust Him to join me in that place of pain instead of running to unhealthy coping mechanisms. This has not only resulted in a deep desire to depend solely on my Savior, but it also gave me eyes to see that God has surrounded me with new friends who love and value me in a way I needed all along- a lot of them here at Mission Church!
And when I really reflect on my life, I do not think I’m actually lacking anything- even in the middle of pain and brokenness!
Doesn’t that sound like real freedom?
A lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions as the calendar changes. What are you hoping for in 2017?
We have the greatest hope alive in Christ. As heavy and trying as times can be, we know that everyday is another chance at experiencing God’s mercy, and we have eternity to look forward to beyond that.
Paul says to the church in Corinth:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Your situation will change. My situation will change. I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but it surely will. We don’t need to put our hope in that either, though. We should put our hope in the fact that our identities and very lives are in the hands of the God of the Universe and that’s the best and safest place to be. He is going to make all things right.
This might be the most important piece of advice I can give.
It is so easy to get caught up in the emotional turmoil that trials bring. I know that some days I have a hard time wanting to get out of bed at all.
The best thing you can do for yourself during hard times is to be in community.
A couple months ago, I broke down at my small group because the next day was my breast exam for my tumor. I was less than 24 hours away from possibly finding out if I had cancer. My friend Buzzy, a wonderful and hilarious young mother of two offered to get a babysitter and take me to my appointment. Normally, I do these things alone. The moment that Buzzy offered to step in and be there for me, pride welled up inside me. I didn’t want to make her take time out of her life just for me. I was used to doing things on my own. Thankfully, God’s voice is stronger than my pride, and I agreed to have her join me. Buzzy and I had the so much fun that day. We really bonded. And it was our other friend from church, Jocelyn (also a mom), who babysat while Buzzy took me to my appointment. I cannot tell you how loved I felt by my community that day. I didn’t have to do anything alone. And my friends just wanted to be there for me, no questions asked.
Asking for help from your community is so worth it.
Take note from my friends Buzzy and Jocelyn- look around, is there anyone in need? Reach out and take relational risks. Be generous with your time, resources, and love. I actually see this happening a lot in the leadership at Mission Church. We have such great examples of people loving each other sacrificially.
Life is so much better in relationship because it is about relationship- with God and each other!
We can endure the hard things in life when we have each other and when we are living the most brave and abundant life that God wants for us.
Bring it, 2017! We are going to put out this dumpster fire together.