If you count New Year’s Eve as the springboard for the rest of it, mine didn’t go well. I’d cooked a special dish, beef in herbs and wine; prepared four vegetables and packed them into a bag with a bottle of wine to take to my family (my bubble) down the road. I carried it carefully down the garden steps to my car, then had to go back up again for the de-icer because the door locks were frozen. My thumb almost stuck to the spray with the cold, but it worked well enough for me to be able to get in and turn the heater up to max. Waiting for the windscreen to clear I phoned my daughter to say I’d be late, but she said best not to come this evening, the roads are very icy here. So I left the bag in the car, which is probably colder than my deep-freeze, gingerly climbed back up the steps and had soup and cheese and biscuits and a glass of Merlot. ‘Happy New Year!’ I toasted myself. And deliberately counted my blessings. Because as well as being a cognitive behavioural therapist I’ve lived long enough to know that what we choose to think influences how we feel, and I refuse to let the weather dictate my mood. I might indulge in a little mutter about it for a few moments but God has made us in such a way that we have a choice. He tells us to choose joy.
Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi, ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’ Philippians 4:8.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do in the New Year is to watch what we are thinking. And choose the ‘whatsoever things…’
Journalist Harry de Quetteville wrote in today’s Telegraph: ‘On New Year’s Eve 1899, as “spectre-grey frost” turned all around him to desolation and confined humanity to the sanctuary of indoors, the writer Thomas Hardy famously found consolation in the joyful song of a thrush “frail, gaunt and small”’, writes Harry de Quetteville in today’s Telegraph.
If a little thrush, ‘frail, gaunt and small’ surrounded by frost could sing with joy, then so can I, and so you. Because we know so much more than the little thrush. We have a life-time’s experience (both our own and others’) of how God answers prayer and turns things around to our good. Even the worst of things, though sometimes it takes time to see it. Most of all, we know how things are going to turn out in the end, and meantime, on the journey, we have the companionship of God Himself.
Our thoughts influence everything in our lives, from the simple to the profound. GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee has published a book entitled ‘Your New Year’s health challenge: rethink your relationship with exercise.’ Up till now my thoughts are that a) it’s good and we should all do it, b) but I begrudge giving it the time. Now my thoughts are changing because I’m inspired by his saying, ‘Movement is so much more than simply burning off calories,” he says. “Exercise and movement is a way to make you feel more alive, to feel more energetic, to help you sleep better and to strengthen your joints and muscles. There is also no faster way to build up your self-esteem and improve your mood than regular movement. And self-esteem is one of the most important yet undervalued factors in achieving sustainable weight loss.’
You’ve probably seen the message on social media from Oscar-winning Welsh actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins reflecting on 45 years of being sober. Now aged 82, he is encouraging younger people: “Today is the tomorrow you were so worried about yesterday. You young people, don’t give up, just keep in there, just keep fighting. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. That sustained me through my life.”
Sir Anthony isn’t thinking, ‘I’m 82, so what use am I now?’ He knows that younger people will take note of his experience and be encouraged by it.
We’re not all well known figures like Sir Anthony. But one thing is certain – you will find that God has a purpose for you in this coming year. He has “good works” for you to do, often the small things that will encourage, and maybe even change the course of a life. (There are stories of how a simple smile changed the course of someone’s life.)
I’m talking about this on Premier’s Sunday Night Live programme on January 3rd at 6.00 o’clock. Hosted by Pam Rhodes, it’s always a warm, interesting programme. I hope many older people will tune in and be encouraged to hear that God has plans for them in 2021 – and beyond.
The general link to the site is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPKwAtipUeI&list=PLS5E_VeVNzAs1Kt_MwiG132YZTygWIWfy
This Sunday’s version will come up shortly.
And – Praying for a contented, Christ-centred Happy New Year!