Have you ever brushed your teeth with anti-itch cream? Have you ever woken-up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, but suddenly find yourself dancing on one foot in a dark room, while trying to dislodge a Lego piece from the other foot? Have you ever tried to do something nice, which completely blew up in your face? Another way to ask the same question is this: have you ever eaten a donut angrily? Let me explain. Imagine that you are out and about running errands, and on the way home, you decide to surprise your family with a dozen fresh Christy’s donuts. As you enter the kitchen, your spouse gives you a death stare, the silence of which speaks volumes: “How dare you? Don’t you remember that today is the first day of my new diet? And don’t you remember that the first line of the diet book reads, ‘Above all things, avoid donuts, especially if they come from the best donut shop in Houston’?” And then, in a huff, said spouse leaves the room and you find yourself eating your donuts angrily, in the middle of an empty kitchen, thinking, “I was just trying to do something nice!” Have you ever parked in the wrong driveway, only to realize you have just arrived at your parishioner’s house, whose floorplan is identical to yours, and whose house number is the same as yours, although two streets over?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have two more questions I hope you have never experienced. Have you ever tried to bury the wrong person or have lunch at the wrong table? Well, I have done both things. A while back, I was asked to do the funeral of the Fire Chief of Davenport, Iowa. Traffic prevented me from arriving at the funeral home early, and I arrived two minutes before the service was about to start. I ran into the dressing room, put my robes on, and entered a filled chapel. I walked to the altar, and said, “Please rise!” I was about to start the “Anthem of the Resurrection” when I raised my head and noticed everyone in the room was Black. I then looked at the open casket and saw, to my complete dismay, the body a very distinguished African-American woman. As realization dawned on me, a smiling, very young, Black pastor approached me and said, “Brother, I think you are in the wrong place. The Chief is in the other room!”
But wait, there is more! Two weeks ago, two very elegant ladies from this church invited me to lunch at their country club. I excused myself to go to the restroom, and upon my return, I proceeded to sit at a completely different table, which was filled with giggly ladies, each of whom had had at least two cocktails. I made a silly comment and started the “Walk of shame” back to my original table. I have never been so thankful for a face mask.
Life is filled with these types of moments. There are days when all you feel like doing is going back to bed, cover yourself with your blankets, and try again tomorrow. There are days when you would rather be in Fallujah or Khartoum than in an elegant country club in Houston, slowly doing the “Walk of shame” back to your table, knowing your wife is one of those people waiting for you, an annoying smile painted on her otherwise beautiful face.
You may be wondering, “What do these questions have to do with the New Year?” The answer is, “Absolutely nothing!” I just felt like acknowledging that sometimes life throws everything it can throw at us! So far in 2020 we have had a worldwide pandemic, an economy in recession, racial unrest, the closing of all our churches for more than six months, mass chaos in our school systems, generalized unemployment, and over 300,000 deaths. Many us feel like going back to bed and waking up in 2021. Many of us feel like we have been dancing on one foot since March, trying hard to cope with the pain produced by the Lego stuck in our foot. Many of us feel completely incompetent and insufficient trying to work from home or to homeschool our children. Many of us feel like complete failures, trying to do the best we can, but eating donuts angrily in the middle of the night in our empty kitchens. Many of us feel out of sorts, making mistakes we would not normally make (like burying the wrong person or crashing the Christmas party of the “Wine-of-the-Month Club.”) This has been a tough year and many of us are glad it is finally over.
I wonder, however, if 2020 has not been a big spoon, stirring things up! Let me explain. The best way to drink Turkish, Cuban, or Espresso coffee is to drink it all at once, like a liquor shot. When you sip it slowly, sometimes your cup develops a sediment at the bottom. This sludge holds all the great flavor of the coffee. When you decide to sip, you must constantly stir your coffee to make sure you are drinking the full-flavored liquid. Sometimes our faith is like coffee sitting undisturbed for a long time. We become set in our ways, fixed, and uncompromising. We become formulaic in our prayers, stuck in our liturgical ways, cold in our hospitality, and lazy in our life of service. We become intolerant of young people and their quirky ways. We get annoyed by crying babies in the back of the church, demand to have services that cater to “adults only,” and get fidgety when the sermon lasts more than 10 to 15 minutes. And as we do in our religious life, we tend to do in our civil life. We become judgmental, suspicious of our neighbors, and uncompromising in our politics.
Perhaps 2020 was the big spoon we did not know we needed. This year has shaken things up for us. The sludge has been loosened, the concrete has been broken-up, and we have been forced to adjust to a new way of being. Perhaps this will prove to be a blessing. Perhaps God is shaping us into a new creation that will be more alive, fully committed, and in love with him and his people. Perhaps we will become more flexible and nimbler, as God uses this horrible year to mold us into the people he wants us to be.
I pray this may be so! May Christ make you into a new being during the new year, for your own sake, and for the sake of the world. Happy New Year!