As this calendar year draws to a close, what will you remember? In some form or fashion, that’s become the dinner conversation my wife and I have on New Year’s Eve. I imagine some version of that conversation happens widely among couples, friends, and families as the year ends.
Each year brings its share of joys and sorrows; some years bring more of the former, others the latter. It’s enjoyable to remember and rehearse the happy moments of the year. Remembering times of sorrow takes much more effort, but also more courage.
As I draw closer to the middle of my life, I’m less concerned with evaluating the quality of a year based on experiencing more joys than sorrows. I cannot control the events of a year. It’s useless to forecast the future or try to control the unexpected. What I can control is how spiritually present I am to the experiences of my life.
But being present to my life isn’t just a matter of the present moment. Being present and awake to your life has as much to do with remembering the past as ‘living in the moment.’
Remembering Joys and Sorrows
Without digressing into a philosophical discussion on time and memory, suffice it to say that past events–whether joyful or painful–are not fixed. The past cannot be undone, but our memory of an event can change through reflection, insight, and prayer.
To intentionally recollect the events of the year now past can become a form of prayer itself. If life is too hurried, we risk losing the treasure of joyful experiences by always looking ahead to the next thing, never savoring the blessings of the past. Recollecting good experiences through the year changes the blessings we receive by anchoring them more deeply in the soul. A simple gift may become a profound blessing over time.
And there’s a redeeming effect for painful experiences, too. It’s common belief that ‘time heals wounds,’ but actively remembering difficult events in a spirit of prayer can be a renewing experience. It takes a great degree of courage to remember painful experiences, but God rewards our faith whenever we seek Here’s what I mean…
When pain is acute, the throes of loss or suffering command our energy and attention and we are not able to see all the hidden mercies of God. We may see some within times of pain, but God is more present with mercy than we can fathom. When we trust God to accompany us in remembering difficult experiences, his grace appears in unexpected ways. Memory burrows into the past, discovering the depths of God’s presence and love that remained hidden while pain was acute.
In my family, one of the strongest memories we will carry from 2015 is the pain of our lost pregnancy. In May of this year, we learned that our baby did not survive the second trimester of pregnancy. We still grieve and feel this loss. We still feel the absence of the baby we expected to be born last November. But we also experience the loss differently because God revealed his presence to us through times of remembering.
We could affirm the presence and love of God even in those days of loss, but it was difficult to reconcile the loss of a pregnancy during the Easter season. While the Church celebrates the resurrection, we grieved the loss of life.
It would be many months later that God would reveal further depths of his presence previously hidden. Near the time of our baby’s expected due date, I began to understand the Easter season could especiallybring healing through loss. Easter is the season when death loses its sting. Our baby will not be defined by death, but by resurrection life. The loss of pregnancy cannot be undone, but our memory of the loss is changed by the Gospel and the hope of glory. There’s a biblical word for that kind of change: transfiguration. Remembering our sorrows with the help of the Spirit always brings the hope of transfigured memories.
Thanksgiving to Close the Year
Though the remembrance of both joys and sorrows is a good spiritual practice, there is something both right and holy about consciously drawing the year to a close. The old must give way to the new. To express thanks and worship God in prayer is an old custom that Christians have practiced at year’s end. Here is a beautiful prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that expresses thanksgiving for both joyful and difficult experiences in our lives. It makes an excellent year’s end prayer:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.