The best thing about JanuaryWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
The post-Christmas blues. Or blahs. Or whatever. Most of us know the feeling. It’s that natural letdown that follows the heightened mood of the holidays as surely as January follows December. The tree has been taken down, the leftover food eaten, the unwanted gifts returned or exchanged. Starbucks has stopped making eggnog lattes. Like the vapour of life, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone for another year, in the blink of an eye. All that remains, it seems, is a daunting stack of bills and a few more months of winter.
We fight gamely against it, this sense of seasonal ennui. After all, the new year is a time of new beginnings, new opportunities. And so we bolster ourselves with resolutions. We plan on hitting the gym, starting new projects, saving more money, reading through the Bible in a year. And yet we know, judging from experience, that most of these plans probably won’t outlast the cold winter weather.
Why do we get this way at the start of the year? There may be a variety of contributing factors, but really only one remedy that’s far better than any New Year’s resolution.
Factors feeding the post-Christmas blues
For some of us, looking back on the Christmas season can carry a sense of disappointment. Perhaps the holidays weren’t quite what we’d hoped for this year, in one way or another. Loneliness, grief, financial or health challenges, strained or broken relationships, plus any number of other circumstances may have muted the joy and celebratory mood, compared with Christmases past.
Beyond that, January has a way of bringing with it a kind of low-grade guilt. Only a short month earlier, we had the best intentions to make the most of our holiday time this year, to get to those tasks long left undone, to share Christ’s love in concrete ways with family, friends and others. But those plans all dissolved in the usual flurry of activities, frazzled nerves, overspending, overeating and crashing in front of the TV.
But perhaps most crucial for followers of Jesus, we may have allowed ourselves to get swept up in the temporary sentimentality that descends on the wider culture during the holidays. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with warm feelings and holiday cheer. But they can become a stand-in for genuine lasting spirituality, not just for non-believers but for believers as well. And once these fleeting high spirits slip away with the last of the old year, there’s bound to be an emotional and spiritual letdown.
Looking back and ahead with Gospel eyes
The month of January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, thresholds and transitions. He is traditionally depicted as having two faces, one looking ahead to the future, the other back at the past. Despite its pagan origins, the imagery is remarkably apt. We too spend a good portion of the month looking back over the year that was, while also anticipating the year to come.
But we’ve a choice in how we do that. We can look back with disappointment and regret over the things we’ve done and failed to do. Or we can recall with gratitude the grace God has shown us throughout the past year, how he blessed and carried us despite our failings. We can affirm with the Israelites of old that we’ve come thus far only by his help.
Likewise as we look to the year ahead, we have a similar choice. We can marshal our resolutions and best intentions, promising to do better this year, even as we anxiously recall our propensity for weakness and failure. Or we can look forward with confident anticipation, knowing our God will carry us through this year as he did the last, not because of anything we will or won’t do, but because of what he’s already done for us in his Son.
A few years ago, Scotty Smith made this incisive observation in his prayer blog for New Year’s Day: “Because the Gospel is true, I don’t begin this year with a list of New Year’s resolutions – promises of what I’m going to do for [God]. Rather, I begin this year abandoning myself to everything Jesus has done for us. Jesus is the promise keeper, not us – the Second Adam and our substitute, not our moral example and second chance.”
Keeping the best thing, the best thing
The best thing about January, coming hard on the heels of a quickly fading Christmas season, is to remind us that all the good things that we enjoy in this world are transitory. They’re meant to point us to God, not take his place in our affections. More than that, the post-Christmas blues can serve us best by stirring a deeper longing within us for true spiritual refreshment and flourishing.
So by all means, let us have our New Year’s resolutions. Let us make them intelligently, realistically, prayerfully. But far more important, let us live all year in the good of the Gospel. Let us draw our energy, joy and hope from what Jesus has already done on our behalf, and what he has promised to accomplish in and through us. The blood of Christ is the only tonic, the only winter cordial, that will see us through January and the rest of the year.
Sources and further reading
Scotty Smith, “A prayer for the first day of 2014,” The Gospel Coalition, January 1, 2014.
© 2020 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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