January is a time of fresh beginning for me. The new year. New, as Anne of Green Gables considered a new day, "with no mistakes in it yet." It's not that any huge travesties mark my last months. But life only seems to get crazier. And the wind of that wildness always blows me a bit off course. I lose that centeredness of soul by which I steer my ship. January is when I regain it. January comes to me like a new journal, with crisp white pages, unmarked, unfilled. I can tell a new story within them, form the narrative of my heart and habits afresh.
Of course, the first story I want to write into being within my life is a closer companionship with God. I almost cannot turn my eyes to him without an ache. For how did I ever turn my eyes from his face to begin with? Life is a wild ride of a many-splendored thing, but still. How did I get so far away from the one Splendor at heart of it all?
I'm traveling just about every week now with conference season in full swing, but I'm making my fresh start by stealing a few minutes in the blue light of dawn to sit with God before it all begins. I set out the tea, pen, Bible and book the night before. Then, as the sun rises next morning, I curl in my current hotel chair and open to the Psalms. Then Romans. These days, I feel a need to return to the basic thoughts that formed my walk with God in my youth.
Live according to the Spirit. Walk in the life of Christ. Fix your mind on life, not death. These are the Romans themes of my dawn moments these days. My soul rises in hunger to meet the challenge. Every day, I've been trying to "present my body" and "set my mind" upon God and his life, trying to re-enter that current of grace that enables me to love with freedom, to work with delight, to give with wholeness of heart. I've been striving to fill these fresh new days with the holy work of living well. But it is, I admit, an effort, a work. Life is still crazy. And honestly, I tend to take everything in Scripture as a challenge. Work longer. Be better. Go faster. Put your back into it, Sarah!
Maybe that is why I feel so easily knocked off course. When I cannot work as hard as I want to, when life exhausts me, I feel that God draws back, waiting for me to right the situation with renewed effort. But this morning, as I finished my few verses and began to say the Celtic prayer with which I often close my quiet times, I realized something new. The injunction to live according to the Spirit is not a command to try harder. To grit my teeth and reach the level of perfection set before me by the Spirit. Rather, it is to live within that Spirit, to think, to choose, to take my very breath in perfect fellowship with Love. Holiness is only accomplished by friendship with God, by my daily fellowship with Christ. Listen to this prayer:
Christ as a light, illumine and guide me. Christ as a shield, overshadow me. Christ over me, Christ under me. Christ beside me, on my left and my right. This day, be within and without me, Lowly and meek, yet all powerful. Be in the heart of each to whom I speak, And the mouth of each who speaks unto me. Christ as a light, Christ as a sheild, Christ beside me, on my left and my right.
To live by the Spirit is simply to enter a second-by-second companionship with a Love whose strength, whose life, whose light will bring me to life if only I will choose him instead of the death of my own dark, striving heart. To walk by the Spirit is simply to be with God as he is ceaselessly with me. To hear his voice and choose his better way instead of my own. It's not to work harder, it is to be held. To be led. To listen to a Father. To hold the hand of a lover. To trust a friendship that will not fail.
My January is beginning in a good way. I like the story that is filling the pages of my days. May you find the same friendship in your own new year.