We humans like beginnings and endings to be tidy. Finish one calendar page. Turn to the next.
Ring out an old year. Ring in the new.
Complete one project. Start another.
Because of this propensity, books give us great comfort. They start on page 1. They conclude with the last period. And by the time we turn that final page, all the loose ends have been neatly tied. Movies and TV shows do the same thing in even shorter order.
School semesters, likewise, have a first day and a final day. Between those two bookends, a semester may be frightfully demanding and complicated. But at the appointed time, it's over. Finis. Last semester's teacher doesn't keep giving you assignments or expect you to continue showing up for class.
Ah, but life itself hasn't yet come out in the movie version, no matter what the reality shows may say. And in life, beginnings and endings rarely happen so tidily. In fact, they're usually quite messy and often overlap like the homework assignments and projects and tests due during a semester.
Funny thing is: We rather expect life to operate in semesters or chapters or other tidy segments. It doesn't. Life operates in seasons. On the calendar, even the seasons appear tidy. Each one begins and ends on a certain day. Yet in reality, the transition from fall to winter or winter to spring is far more protracted and far less predictable than the calendar indicates. In reality, the transition between life's seasons is messy too.
Yes, each person operates between the bookends of birth and death. But death is not the tidy ending we may imagine.
And birth? Well, advances in technology have proven what many folks have long insisted: Life is well underway roughly nine months before birth. During those months, the little one to be born receives nurture in the protected environment of the womb. Meanwhile, the entire expectant family operates in that protracted and unpredictable overlap of seasons.
To use a phrase borrowed from a class I took, pregnancy is an "already but not yet" time, when one season is ending while another is being ushered in.
The trick in any time of seasonal shift is not to let the messiness and unpredictability keep you from ending what needs to be ended and starting what needs to be begun. A whole nation with a leader named Moses learned this lesson the hard way. After 400 years of living in Egypt, these folks headed for a land God had promised to give them.
They stopped en route at Mount Horeb for a year's worth of instructions and preparations. Then, according to Moses' account in Deuteronomy, "The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, 'You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and set your journey, and go '" (1:6-7 NASU).
Well, off they went. But almost immediately, things got messy. When their new beginning didn't prove tidy at all, the people bailed on Moses. Or, actually, they bailed on God. For the next 39 years, they remained stuck purposeless, powerless, pitiful until God finally said again, "You have circled this mountain long enough" (Deut. 2:2 NASU).
Any year, any date, may hold for you a new season. When you find yourself in an "already but not yet" place, remember: Life's beginnings and endings are never tidy. They're messy and unpredictable and ultimately thrilling. No matter how frightening the change may seem, don't abort the new thing God is seeking to bring to birth.
Trust him. And step into the new season that awaits.
(c) 2004, 2005 by Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved. “Messy New Year” is Snapshot 103 in Deborah’s book, “Focused Living in a Frazzled World: 105 Snapshots of Life.”