Reflections on the New Year

(Posted a few week late)

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The new year is upon us, and as we say goodbye to 2015 in all the traditional celebratory ways (parties, fireworks, countdowns), 2016 is ushered in with excitement and anticipation in the hearts of people all around the world. I love that we can look forward to a new year no matter how the past year has treated us. I believe the human soul has a limitless potential for hope, regardless of how many times we’ve been hurt.

I hope this past year was the best year of your life yet. However, I know that for too many of us it was not. 2015 was a very difficult year for me, as I experienced many confusing and painful emotions. A long and dark winter gave way to a stressful spring, where I worked at applying to the teacher education program while balancing my most demanding courseload yet and preparing for a mission trip to Ireland. That mission trip was emotionally taxing as my team and I tried to speak words of life to many different people who had no hope. The summer was spent preparing for my sister’s wedding at our home, which, while it was a beautiful day in which Christ was glorified at the joining of two lives who exalt Him, still was consuming and exhausting with emotions that bordered on devastating. I gained a cherished brother-in-law, but I also had to figure out how to let go of my only sister and embrace change that all too often seems like a cruel enemy. Fall brought a busy semester with evenings full of classes and studying, leaving no time for friendships and fellowship. I was left to deal with loneliness that threatens to be a constant companion. Being separated from like-minded friends led to a season of confusion and depression, in which Satan got ahold of my mind and heart. He began to wreak havoc in my thoughts and emotions, and as the days got shorter so did my joy. Everything I thought I knew and believed was shaken and what followed were weeks of violent panic attacks and crippling anxiety. Darkness seemed to spread to every part of my world.

So following a year that was mostly painful and bleak, one can’t help but look forward to a new year. What do we have if we don’t have hope? Though the sorrow may last for the night, joy comes with the morning.

Change is the theme on everyone’s minds. A brand new year is before us, clean and free from any mistakes. The beginning of a new year is a seemingly perfect time to start afresh. But mistakes are bound to happen. We will slip up. I urge you to take every opportunity to change, to admit that you are wrong. Be it the beginning of a new year, a new month, a new day, or mid-sentence when you decide to throw your pride to the wind and make a change because life is too short to live knowing you are doing something wrong but choosing to do it anyway. (I know that was a run-on sentence, but it gets my point across 🙂 .) I hope we can all wake up to the fact that change is hard, but it is important. And we have the strength to do it. Maybe it’s giving up an addiction. Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids. Maybe it’s deciding to live a healthier lifestyle. To be more patient, to love better, to be more hopeful—whatever your resolution for 2016, I hope you know how strong you really are. God has given you everything you need to make that change. No one else can do it for you.

My resolutions for 2016 and beyond are to be more vulnerable with people, realizing that sharing life with others is what makes us human. To take every day as it comes, seeking God anew with every sunrise. To live free from fear that lurks beneath the surface, trusting in what God has promised me. To see every person as a beautiful creation of God, someone who needs love and grace. And to, at any point, take the opportunity to make a change in my life.

I hope you’ll join me in making 2016 more hopeful.

E

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Till We Have Faces

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The final book I read in 2015 was C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. I have always been enamored with Lewis’ works, and this particular book was the recommendation of a friend. It’s been in my pile of must-reads since this summer, and I finally got around to reading it this Christmas. The story is a retelling of the myth Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of Psyche’s older sister Orual. I was not familiar with the myth before reading Lewis’ adaptation, and it could have been helpful to have had an idea of the original story before reading Till We Have Faces. However, Lewis includes a description of the myth and his motives for the retelling in the back of the book, and I don’t think my ignorance took away from the experience overmuch.

This brilliant story explores the mysteries of faith and how we are called to trust in things unseen. The lesson to be learned from this book is that we are unable to consider spiritual matters when our hearts are impure. As the book title suggests, it is not till we find sincerity and clarity—till we have faces—that we will know truth.

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

At first I could not understand C.S. Lewis’ motivation or purpose for writing this book. It did not seem to be the clear-cut metaphor for our Christian faith that can be found in his Narnia series. Why would he write about this dark and mysterious religion, gods who demand human and animal sacrifice? In the beginning I could not understand how the religion depicted in the story relates to the faith in God that I know C.S. Lewis had. At the same time, I related to the motives and experiences of the characters. Orual attempted to be devout, but she questioned the divine concepts her people believed. It was difficult for her to believe in something she could not see or understand. Moreover, there seemed to be no end to the suffering present in her life.

“There must, whether the gods see it or not, be something great in the mortal soul. For suffering, it seems, is infinite, and our capacity without limit.”

It wasn’t until I reached the end of the book that the intended meaning of the story came into focus. It became a haunting depiction of the human heart and our thoughts about God and ourselves.

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As the story unfolds, readers learn that the kingdom of Glome is in chaos from sickness, famine, and drought. The king is going to sacrifice his daughter Psyche, who is beautiful in both face and heart, as an offering to their god. It is heartbreaking how Psyche calmly speaks about her impending death to her devastated sister, Orual. This is one of the most meaningful passages of the book, and I want to share some quotes from it:

“Death opens a door out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.”

“It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine…Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche, come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.”

“I am going, you see, to the Mountain. You remember how we used to look and long? And all the stories of my gold and amber house, up there against the sky, where we thought we should never really go? The greatest King of all was going to build it for me. If only you could believe it, Sister! No, listen. Do not let grief shut up your ears and harden your heart.”

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

“Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover.”

For death to be spoken of in such terms—unafraid, hopeful, even longed for—was both comforting and difficult to comprehend. The metaphors of man’s sinful nature, Jesus’ sacrificial death, and God’s grace and invitation to Heaven come together to create a brilliant retelling of the mythical story on C.S. Lewis’ part. While the first part of the book is an accusation against the gods by Orual, the second part describes her change of heart as she recognizes her own pride and selfishness and comes to understand that the gods are lovingly present in humans’ lives. I did not understand until the end of the book how profound it really is. The correlations to themes of the Christian faith were not easily found or understood, and it is that mystery that makes this book so brilliant and haunting. I am eager to read it again, for, as any great book, Till We Have Faces takes time to work through before it can be understood. I definitely recommend this book; it is not an easy read, but I’m sure you’ll not regret reading it. I’ll end this post with a final quote from the end of the book:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”