For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. [S]He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, [s]he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
—Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13
New Year’s is probably my least favorite holiday. After the anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas, New Year’s feels like a harsh reality check. In addition to seeing the clean slate of a brand new year, I can’t help but see the ways in which the past year has and has not met my expectations. Call me a pessimist, but with each passing year, January 1 calls attention to how quickly our lives pass. I go to the parties and ring in the New Year dancing and making merry, but when Auld Lang Syne (which is a really sad song!) begins to play, I lose myself in a reverie of “if only”s. If only I’d stuck with my diet, I would be 30 pounds lighter. If only I’d realized my calling sooner, I could be further ahead in my career. If only…well, you get the idea. It can be endless!
I do not say this to be a killjoy. For me, New Year’s is an occasion that incites an emotional paradox. It just seems to me that there is a time to mourn as well as a time to dance, and sometimes the two are one and the same. As Dolly Parton’s character says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Sometimes life is not as clear cut as the author of Ecclesiastes would like us to believe. God has made everything suitable for its time, but sometimes it feels like the time for everything is now. Our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, are often paradoxical. Because “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil,” I have to believe that even when it feels like everything is happening at once, God calls us to embrace those moments of paradox, to take pleasure in life even when life is not easy.
Much like the emotional paradox it creates in me, New Year’s encompasses both the known past and the unknown future in a single day. The Scripture says that God “has put a sense of past and future into [our] minds.” As we enter a new year, filled with hope and possibility, we can reflect on the past as well. God meets us in the instant between past and future, offering us opportunities to co-create new and unimagined futures. God calls us to honor our time and to be partners in “what God is doing from beginning to end.” How can we respond in ways that honor the past and do justice to the potential the future holds? May we take great pleasure in life this year, and may we be faithful listeners who can embrace paradox and respond in compassionate ways.
Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.