A New Year of New Life in Christ
2017 was an unhappy year for me. In fact, it might have been my unhappiest year. Sadly, though, it shouldn’t have been. It didn’t need to be. I got 2017 wrong. It didn’t wrong me at all. I’m alive, I have a wife I’ll never deserve, five healthy and gifted kids, great parents, what should be fulfilling vocations, health for the most part, I saw new parts of the country, made new friends, began one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken with Let the Bird Fly!, had several books published or set in motion, and so on, and so on. And yet 2017 was an unhappy year, and I let my unhappiness spill over into way too many peoples’ lives, into my vocations, into way too much.
I’ve always been a goal person. I decide I want to do something and then I do it. That has historically served me well. It got me a good education, allowed me to punch way above my weight when it came to a wife, brought me five children set to be better people than their old man, helped me meet people, afforded me opportunities to travel, brought me letters after my name. Even more, these things were and are gifts of God. They were given for me to enjoy. But I drained them of their joy. I turned grace into idolatry.
2017 was an interesting year. People cared about what I research. It was the Luther Year. I spoke, I wrote, I corresponded, I did a lot. And yet, at the end of the day, I never have cared less for my field. I grew sick of it. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to read, didn’t want to write. I just wanted to tune out. I really didn’t get the point of it all. That, too, was on me, but it was me. What had always intellectually stimulated left me numb.
2017 was a year filled with family and friends. My wife had a number of important benchmarks at her job. You wouldn’t have known from my reactions. My kids accomplished a lot. I was there. I pride myself on being there. But I wasn’t present. Our study group of pastors kept going but I took off more. I had people to talk to about stuff I want to talk about normally, yet I found an excuse to miss our last meeting. I withdrew from longtime friends. I withdrew from about everything, although I got by enough to keep people from bothering me about it.
2017 was an unhappy year, and it was entirely my fault. I slept more than ever before, I’d guess, but not normal hours, and rarely well, and often because I didn’t want to get up and deal with stuff—often imaginary stuff. No one was out to get me. No one was looking to make problems for me. I just didn’t have energy to give, and so I got selfish, and in so doing, I got lazier, fatter, and fell more behind.
I like to set goals. I’ve set academic goals, family goals, fitness goals, all sorts of goals, and I’ve met them all at some point, but I’ve honestly, truly, sincerely never been fulfilled, not as the fruit of my work. And this year I read less, engaged less, and got about as out of shape as I’ve ever been. My idols all failed me, or I failed them—I suppose both. 2017 wasn’t my year, although God and my family and my friends and so many people gave me every reason for it to be.
Christ’s only goals are for us
Those who’ve listened to the podcast might know that I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve services. That’s another story for another time. Either way, it’s sort of arbitrary how we end the year—I’ve never really liked it and so I’m not a fan of churching it up. You might by now understand, however, that I don’t always have the best judgment. Something struck me tonight, though, as I write this, Christmas day, at 2AM, having benefited from my Pastor’s preaching for Christmas Eve and the service as a whole. Christ came with no goals when it came to Himself. His only goals entailed us. He didn’t come to be fulfilled, but to give Himself. And He did that for me. He nailed my goals, my idols, my sins to the tree of the cross. He took all my foolishness upon Himself. He told me to get my head out of myself and find meaning where it’s least expected. In so doing, He’s made clear that my happiness isn’t something to be sought, a good year isn’t something to be achieved, but, rather, like all good things from God, these are things to be received, gifts to be cherished.
What’s my resolution for 2018? I don’t have any at the moment. I’m waiting to enjoy what little of 2017 is left. I do know Christ’s resolution, though. It’s to love me, unconditionally, and to love my family, my friends, my colleagues, and others through me. We don’t get enough years to squander them. Ever year will bring plenty to confess, but the best years will be those in which we confess Christ as our forgiveness, life, and hope.
To my wife, my kids, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, to all my neighbors, all I can offer today is my repentance, and it doesn’t do them much good, because that’s God’s gift to and for me. They are God’s gifts, too, though. They are mine to love, to enjoy, to serve, even as Christ has served me, not so that God will love me, but because the Child in the manger is proof of God’s love to me.
Goodbye, 2017. I am truly sorry to those who shared it with me. I’m back to my baptismal waters, though. Perhaps you can join me? Perhaps that can be my gift? I honestly mean to do better, but there will be times you need to point me back to them. God grant it, I will confess my sins when the time comes, and I will point you to the same when you need it.
I’d say 2017 tried to break me, but that’s not true. I did that. 2017 will be soon be dead and gone, though, and I already am, crucified with Christ. Live with me in 2018. Live free in Christ.
Dr. Wade Johnston has degrees from Martin Luther College, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Central Michigan University, and Erasmus University Rotterdam. He serves as assistant professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and served for ten years in parish ministry in Saginaw, Michigan.
Mark doesn’t waste words in his Gospel. His Jesus, the Jesus, is a man on a mission, determined, racing. Mark doesn’t waste words, but his words pack a punch and his brief descriptions beg for deep reflection. Like a passenger in a car driving quickly, we can easily miss the details of the landscape if we don’t pay careful attention. Mark sets us on a race, but it’s important to stop along the way.