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By Brian Keepers
For many of us, the arrival of a new year whispers the promise of new beginnings and hums with a hint of fresh possibilities. A time to start over, begin again. A time to leave behind “what has been” and step into “what might be.”
True, according to the liturgical calendar, the new year began over a month ago on the first Sunday of Advent. Still, there’s always been something for me about the twelve days of Christmastide, followed by Epiphany, and the way it ushers us into a new “secular” calendar year. Maybe it’s because, as a pastor, I finally find the space between Christmas and New Year’s to breathe, rest, and do an audit of my heart. There is room to reflect on the past year, which uncorks both gratitude and lament. There is also room to get oriented toward what’s ahead, to lean into my hopes and longings, and to ask God for the grace to walk with courage and humility into a future that is not my own.
While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge that only where God is can there be a new beginning. “We cannot command God to grant it; we can only pray to God for it.” That sounds right to me. So as we begin 2017, let me commend to you a prayer for new beginnings. This is one of my favorite prayers by Ted Loder, called “Help Me to Believe in Beginnings,” found in his beautiful collection of prayers titled, Guerillas of Grace (Fortress Press, 2005):
God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
I’ve known death and birth;
I’ve been brave and scared;
I’ve hurt, I’ve helped;
I’ve been honest, I’ve lied;
I’ve destroyed, I’ve created;
I’ve been with people, I’ve been lonely;
I’ve been loyal, I’ve betrayed;
I’ve decided, I’ve waffled;
I’ve laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history –
and now another day begins.
O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I’ve failed before.
Help me to make beginnings:
to begin going out of my weary mind
into fresh dreams,
daring to make my own bold tracks
in the land of now;
to begin forgiving
that I may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
that I may know truth;
to begin disciplining
that I may create beauty;
to begin sacrificing
that I may make peace;
to begin loving
that I may realize joy.
Help me to be a beginning to others:
to be a singer to the songless,
a storyteller to the aimless,
a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
of assurance for the doubting,
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing,
of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry,
of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.
Help me to believe in beginnings,
to make a beginning,
to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live
with the passion of Jesus Christ.
Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Fellowship Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.