The first month of a new year is almost history. How are your New Year’s Resolutions working out for you? Yeah, mine too. I always tend to overcomplicate things with lists and goals and checklists. I’m already longing for simplicity in the new year. Fortunately, I had the privilege of hearing my amazing sister and best girlfriend, Rev. Christina Hildebrand, preach on January first. I love what she shared and I wanted to share it with you. (She said I could!) If you’re weary from working on your resolutions, rest in the embrace of God’s grace instead.
New Year Simplicity
The New Year is upon us! It is the biggest – “I’m starting my diet today” day of the year.
Treadmills are on sale at sporting goods stores. There are coupons for low-fat yogurt, brown rice, quinoa, and chia seeds, and I have officially received my postcard in the mail inviting me to join WeightWatchers for a special January discount price.
It is the day to unveil our New Year’s Resolutions…a tradition that dates back to the ancient Babylonians some 4000 years ago. The Babylonians are credited with the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year. As part of the 12-day religious festival, they made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. If they kept their word, the gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year, but if not, they would fall out of the god’s favor. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our new year’s resolutions.
And so maybe as we turn the page on 2016 and look to the year ahead, we DO include losing weight among our 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. After all, for numerous consecutive years, it has been the number one New Year’s resolution…followed by resolutions to quit smoking, to saving more money, or travel more, and to drink less.
Or maybe we take Jen Hatmaker’s approach…to simply to be entirely more awesome! The Christian author writes, “New Year’s feeds into my dark side, and I feel the pressure toward AWESOMENESS. Maybe this year I will live up to the hype. Maybe this year I will be THE MOST AWESOME author and THE MOST AWESOME mom and the MOST AWESOME WIFE AND PASTOR-TYPE AND FRIEND AND SCHOOL VOLUNTEER AND CULTURAL ANALYST AND RACIAL RECONCILER AND TV GIRL AND BOOK PROMOTER AND BLOGGER AND PERSON OF INTEREST AND INSTAGRAMMER! I will be awesome at all of these things and it will be stunning and I will finally rid myself of this icky guilt I carry around all the live long day for being not awesome enough. It’s a simple formula really: just be very, very good at everything. Is that so hard?”
We make resolutions with the best of intentions…but it is hard to stick to these grand, vague resolutions and over 80 – 90 percent of new year’s resolutions will be abandoned by the time that we turn the calendar page to February. The experts and psychologist suggest that too often we choose the most unrealistic goals as resolutions under the false assumption that e can just “be a completely different person” in the New Year. And so perhaps we adjust our resolutions and we look beyond the complex formulas for success and the sweeping and dramatic paradigm shifts. Maybe this year we focus on simply living each day well.
The world around us is getting increasingly complex, and yet…
Our human story is one of God moving us from complexity to simplicity.
- Our story begins with the creation of Adam gifted with a beautiful garden. And God says, “Eat your fill…take all that you need, from all of the trees of the garden…except that one tree over there…the Tree of Knowledge. You can have anything your heart desires…with one exception…that one tree.” And amid God’s beautiful simplicity, the first of humankind instigates chaos, and darkness, and complexity.
- God gifts Moses and the Israelites with the simplicity of the 10 Commandments…translated in Hebrew “10 words”. Ten simple words that gift us with a foundation for basic morals. And we split hairs over their meaning and we debate where we can display them.
- The prophet Micah tells us that The Israelites complained that God was never satisfied. And they snidely asked, “What does God want from us anyway? How many burnt offerings are required? Will the Lord be pleased with 1000s of sacrifices? Or should I just hand over my oldest child?” And out of the complexity of their grumbling, God’s prophet speaks this simple line…”God has told you what is good…act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
- The Pharisees and Sadducees plot to test Jesus on the complexities of the laws… “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus offers the simplicity of love – “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is an exquisite simplicity of the Gospel that is life-giving against the backdrop of an increasingly complex world.
Our human story is one of God moving us from complexity to simplicity.
A disciple asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Jesus answers, “when you pray, don’t stand in the synagogue or on the street corners so that all may see you…and don’t heap up empty phrases thinking you will be heard because of your many words.” And in that moment, Jesus offers up to us the simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that flows even from the lips of children.
In the simplicity of that prayer, we hear these words today…
GIVE us this day our daily bread.
With the first word of this simple plea, GIVE, we come to God in a spirit of humble dependence. GIVE reminds us that we are vulnerable. GIVE reminds us that we are fragile. GIVE reminds us that it is God who sustains us – from the breath in our lungs to the bread at our table.
When our first son was born, the time spent in the hospital involved around-the-clock visitors. Nurses checking blood pressure, monitoring the baby’s weight. Doctors administering hearing tests for the baby and giving necessary vaccines. Family and friends bearing gifts and bringing well wishes.
And then came the time to take the baby home. And as new parents, it was not the smoothest transition to the car seat, but we eventually got him snuggled and secured in the new family minivan. And when we got home we laid the sleeping child in his crib and the house fell silent. And for the first time, this awakening swept over me and nearly knocked me to my knees…the realization that this fragile infant was absolutely and completely dependent on his parents for life – we were the source of his daily bread.
At his birth, Mary and Joseph also had around-the-clock visitors, the audience of the animals in the manger, the filthy shepherds and sheep in from the fields, and the wise men that traveled from so far. And when they had all returned home, and they were only surrounded by a hushed silence, I wonder if Mary also experienced the realization that this fragile infant Jesus was absolutely and completely dependent on her and Joseph.
With outstretched hands we pray to God, give.
Give US this day OUR daily bread.
It is interesting to note that the ONE example Christ gave us as a model for prayer is a communal prayer. As believers we are not islands, we are members of a community. In this prayer, the Lord invites us to stand shoulder to shoulder in the work of the kingdom, to seek God’s face together and to bear our burdens together.
When we pray, we pray for US and we pray for OUR because as a community of faith, we lean together into a future of hope and we celebrate that we all eat at the same table.
In her book, Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist writes, “We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.”
Give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread.
We seek God for our daily bread, not weekly, monthly or yearly bread. God’s daily provision is illustrated in the Exodus story of the Israelites who had been wandering in the wilderness for over a month. And in their hunger, they begin to grumble…”Oh, if only we had died back in Egypt!” But God faithfully provides manna in the morning and quail at twilight and instructs them to gather ONLY THE MANNA that they need for that day. Any attempt at stockpiling or hoarding will only result in rotten, maggot-infested food. God provided the daily bread for each day, one day at a time.
Perhaps we don’t have experience with the kind of hunger that calls to question if food will be provided for from day to day, but many of us have remained by a family member’s bedside after hearing from the doctor, “the next 24 hours are critical.” Or we have walked with a friend during a personal crisis who is trying to get through it, one day at a time.
Give us this day our daily BREAD.
But how well do we relate to this prayer when our pantries are packed and our freezers are full? Wouldn’t it be better to pray in light of our new year’s resolution anyway, “Lord, help me to eat less bread. Lord help me to lose more weight.”
Bread represents for us the necessities of life – we are not asking God to give us this day our daily cake – our mindset is not on the desiring of luxuries or indulgence, but on the simplicity of what we need for this day.
R.C. Sproul tells the story, in his book, The Prayer of our Lord, that after the Korean war ended, South Korea was left with a large number of children who had been orphaned by the war. “We’ve seen the same thing happen”, he writes, “with the Vietnam conflict and in Bosnia and other places. In Korea, relief agencies came in to deal with all the problems that arose in connection with having so many orphan children. One of the people involved in this relief effort told me about a problem they encountered with the children who were in the orphanages. Even though the children had three meals a day provided for them, they were restless and anxious at night and had difficulty sleeping. As they talked to the children, they soon discovered that the children had great anxiety about whether they would have food the next day. To help resolve this problem, the relief workers in one particular orphanage decided that each night when the children were put to bed, the nurses there would place a single piece of bread in each child’s hand. The bread wasn’t intended to be eaten; it was simply intended to be held by the children as they went to sleep. It was a ‘security blanket’ for them, reminding them that there would be provision for their daily needs. Sure enough, the bread calmed the children’s anxieties and helped them sleep.”
So let us pause now and reflect on how God is calling us to live in this New Year. And amid all of the complexity of life, may our hearts find at the center of it all the simplicity to which God is inviting us to be a part.
To love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor.
To seek God with humble dependence for our daily need.
If you enjoyed this post from my sister, please read her other one What are You Doing HERE, God? It’s great too!
Meet my amazing sister and best girlfriend, Rev. Christina Hildebrand. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is the mother to three of the most compassionate children I know. She currently serves as the Minister of Children & Family Ministries at her church. She oversees various programs and services for well over a 100 children each week. Christina has a tender spirit toward the things of God and is a gifted communicator of His heart to His people.