On the Threshold of a New Year

Thresholds can be frightening. Our ancient ancestors felt that thresholds were dwelling places for evil spirits. They believed that stepping on a threshold made them vulnerable to the spirits which lurked there, so they were careful to avoid them. Often, they posted icons or talismans on doorposts and doorframes to ward off those dangerous forces.

Thresholds still cause us anxiety. Standing at the end of the familiar and on the verge of the new, between the comfortable and the unknown, we feel a strange mixture of both risk and opportunity—of both eagerness and reluctance.

We’re on the threshold of a new year, and we don’t know exactly what lies ahead. A lot, of course, will be the same. The writer of Ecclesiastes was convinced that “there is nothing new under the sun. What has been is what will be.”

Not everything will be the same, though. We’ll be both surprised and shocked; there will be unexpected delights and unanticipated disappointments. So, on the threshold of this new year, I am wondering: How do we prepare ourselves for a future we cannot foresee? How do we get ready for a tomorrow we cannot fully predict?

I think the answer has to do with purpose and meaning. Victor Frankl, the brilliant psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor believed that human beings can endure any what as long as we have a sense of why. We can bear-up under adversity if we feel that it isn’t useless, and we can shoulder the burden of trouble if we feel that it isn’t pointless.

Frankl knew that meaning and purpose are not found in the events of life themselves. In themselves, many of the things we experience are random, cruel, and senseless. Meaning and purpose come from the interpretations we bring to life’s events and from the stories we tell ourselves about what happens to us. Life isn’t so much about what happens to us as it is about what happens in and with us as a result of what happens to us.

To be prepared for whatever lies ahead of us in the New Year means to gain, or regain, clarity about the purpose and meaning of our lives. I've come to believe that life’s purpose has to do with the kind of people we become as we live it.

The life and teachings of Jesus have convinced me that God intends for us to experience fullness of life, which means a kind of life which is as free and joyful, as passionate for peace and justice, and as radiant with compassion and love as the life of Jesus.

I’m learning that life’s events can be bent to deepen our passion, heighten our awareness, and broaden our compassion. Everything can be lived and prayed in such a way that frees us from illusion and liberates us from denial. All of life can become our teacher in the ways of empathy and understanding and in the practices of mercy and love.

We don’t know what will happen to us in the year ahead, but we don’t need to be afraid. Together with people who care for us, and held by the God who loves us, we can use whatever happens as catalysts for growth into abundant life—life as we dream it could be and life as God means it to be.