Today is New Year’s Day, and many of us are just waking up after a late night of celebration, counting down in eager anticipation of the new year. This day is lauded as more than just the first day of a new calendar; it is the dawn of a hopeful new era of possibility. Many of us even make resolutions about how we plan to make this year better than the last.
For others of us, however, today is the next day of a long winter. Hope seems far away, and simply making it through the next 24 hours is the only resolve we can muster. Are you exhausted and discouraged after a long December? On this day, my thoughts are with those who are suffering. We’ve lost loved ones this year. We’ve been sick. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve endured scars that will change our lives forever. Many of us still find ourselves in the midst of our struggle, even as the rest of the world appears to be moving forward without us.
Over the recent holiday season, my wife and I went to see the movie “Into the Woods.” The premise of the film is that many familiar fairy tale characters find themselves in the midst of their own individual struggles. They each have to make journeys into the treacherous woods at the edge of their village for one reason or another. While they are there, they encounter their own unique dangers, struggles, and difficulties that will change their lives forever. They make mistakes. They fight with each other. They endure losses. They encounter dangers and have a very difficult time.
What they all come to learn is that there is value in the struggle. Everyone finds themselves “in the woods” at various times of their lives, experiencing pain and making mistakes. Scars are inevitable, but in the midst of struggle there is hope. Making mistakes should be expected, and the characters discover that even in the midst of strife, they have one another. They also discover strengths within themselves that they did not know they had before their pain.
Our own existence in the woods can be cruel and difficult. It’s not hard to understand why we can become hopeless and discouraged during the journey. Indeed, this past year has brought pain and hardship that will change our lives forever. We have hurt. We have cried. At times it has seemed unbearable. Know that your pain has value, and that making mistakes is okay. When you are exhausted in the woods, remember these four things:
1. Everybody has to journey into the woods. Adversity and loss are universal experiences, and no one makes it through without somehow messing up, feeling grief, and knowing pain. The fact that you face difficulty is not a punishment. Neither is it the result of some kind of fundamental flaw on your part. It is simply the way things are when you are walking through the woods. We are all in the same boat.
2. Bad things will happen, and you will make mistakes. No one escapes this. The key is acknowledging your struggle and owning it. Speak it out loud to others. Don’t hold your mistakes too tightly, or they will own you. Know that messing up is just a way of making incremental steps toward wholeness. No one finds peace without first facing hurt and brokenness.
3. You are not alone. All who groan are with you in the struggle. The woods are full of those who are just trying to find their way, and we can be stonger when we walk together. Seek out connection with those who have walked a similar path before you. Choose to walk with someone else who is traveling a road down which you have already been. You might find strength that you didn’t know existed. We’re all together on this journey through the woods… don’t miss the forest for the trees.
4. Pain has value, and our destination is good. Wandering in the wilderness has purpose. A full life is not found by avoiding pain, it’s experienced as we find meaning and value in the struggle. And once the struggle is over, I believe this path takes us somewhere good. Scripture gives me hope that everything will eventually make sense again. In Ephesians, we read that
“[God’s] will … to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment–[is] to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Eph. 1:9-10
And again in Colossians,
“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood on the cross.” Col. 1:19-20
Take this in for a moment–all things are being reconciled. All my tears, all my pain, all my failures, all my struggle… it will be reconciled. I will be whole. I’m on my way there, my path just goes through the woods.
So may you find light and life in the new year as you traverse your way through the forest. May even the most painful and difficult times come with the knowledge that there is meaning in the journey. May you give yourself grace and find strength that you never knew you had. May you find comfort in those who walk the path with you, and may the grace and peace of God be with you always.
–From Matt Thames