I don’t write about faith much – this is the first time on this blog. Because it doesn’t permeate my speech as much as it should, and because I know a lot of you in a context that doesn’t naturally bring those conversations about, I worry that reading this will feel like a bit of a bait-and-switch. I don’t have anything to offer to correct that, but I feel it important to acknowledge. I hope I’m always honest when the subject comes up, but there are situations where it doesn’t, and that’s ok. It would be ridiculous to say “here’s how I think Jesus would have designed this piece of software”, just as it would be to reference to God in my standup just to assuage my conscience.
Social media is filled today with thoughts about the triumphs of 2013 and the possibilities of 2014. No doubt all of us had a year of highs and lows – but I find it difficult to write about the year because, sitting here tonight, the lows are louder. It’s not that there weren’t great moments – there were – but I can’t think of those without also musing on the things that didn’t go as well, and so the whole thing ends up pretty downcast. No one wants to read a comfortable middle class 25 year old feeling down about the things that annoy him (and for what it’s worth, I’m not talking about anything in my life approaching a real problem, rather things that feel overwhelming regardless of how serious – though I believe this argument also stands for huge things like long term unemployment or the breakdown of a significant relationship).
I think I’m pretty chipper (or at least neutral) in person, which probably makes it a little weird that I can’t think of anything nice to say about 2013 without negativity crowding in. I don’t think I’m pretending in person, the voices of doom that descend when I’m on my own don’t tell the whole story anymore than occasional attempts at wit during meetings do, but it’s difficult to hold the two things in balance. The world offers several responses to my melancholy, and they are unhelpful:
“Be grateful.” It’s easy to assume someone feeling weighed down by things in life is taking too much for granted. This suggests that humans are incapable of feeling more than one thing at a time – but anyone who has made a difficult decision in anticipation of something better knows that this isn’t true. It’s totally possible to feel deep gratitude welling up about good moments while still hearing the constant voice of those things you wish were different.
“Stop being a victim.” I’m treading carefully here because I risk saying something I don’t mean. But for those who look at every unhappy person as a victim – look me in the eye and tell me that 100% of your successes were the result of effort, and 0% was happenstance. I promise, you cannot. Yes – fight for change with all of your might, all of your days – more on that in a minute – but there has to be a way to handle the possibility that we could fight our weaknesses our whole lives and lose.
“Hope in next year.” In this category, I’d argue that the pessimists have the intellectual high ground. Nothing magic happened between 11:59 and 12:00 last night. All the things you hate today are there tomorrow, and will be the day afterward. In this same category is “it can only get better from here,”which isn’t even appropriate if read from a fortune cookie after eating bad Chinese food – you might still throw up.
So what do we do about this? There are lots of ways that “hope in Jesus” could answer this, but before you dismiss me as trite, let me offer one specific answer:
Hope in the future. Not next year – unimaginable millions of years into the future. Hope in the fact that this future has been secured by someone who is not you. The perfect life and death of Jesus is the grounds by which God accepts you into a future which has not been ruined by our rebellion. Then use that reality (that the only future that counts is not based on you, and therefore you can’t ruin it) to fight to do the right thing in this life. The assumption that we have to have our most comfortable life now is ruining everything – and you know that, because it’s lack of comfort that is ultimately causing the melancholy. Things will still go wrong, and a lot of them will be your fault. But if you, like me, find yourself a bit confused about how to feel at the end of the year, set your hope in 2014 on Jesus, who secured a future reality not based on your performance.