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When the New Year Does Not Look How You Expected

When sitting down to begin this blog post, I began by thinking about why we celebrate a new year. What makes switching the calendar so important? Why do we try to stay up until midnight to watch the ball drop and cheer as we officially say goodbye to the old number on the calendar and hello to a new one? As I reflected on these questions, two words kept coming to mind: hope and expectations. A new year brings hope for better things to come, that maybe this year will be better than the last. We hope that we can be better, our circumstances can be better, or that the things we have been longing for will come to pass. This hope is wonderful and spurs resolutions and can spark change, but it can also become a double-edged sword when paired with expectations.

The new year can bring expectations that things WILL change or that we are “supposed” to be able to miraculously turn our life around. That January 1st will feel in some way different from December 31st. Even how we celebrate the new year can be loaded with expectations of how we should be celebrating or who we should be celebrating with. However, life does not often work this way. The new year might be brought in alone, mourning loss, or without as much hope as you would like. You might be ending 2022 exhausted and without the energy for a big life change. Life may have just changed for you in a way that you did not expect but not in a positive way. Today, I’d like to offer some benedictions for the people who are experiencing a new year in a way that they did not expect. I hope that, if this is you, you find comfort in knowing you are not alone and that you are enough.

For the Person Who is Lonely in the New Year:

Beloved, you are cherished. You did not expect to end the year feeling lonely. Maybe a relationship has ended or this is a feeling that you have felt for a long time. Whether you are feeling alone in a crowded room or are spending the beginning of the year by yourself, we see you. Man was not made to be alone, and we know you deeply feel that right now. I pray that you feel seen by the God who sees. That you know you are loved for who you are and that is enough. Starting this year lonely is not a prediction for the year. January 1st is a day you felt lonely. You will not stay lonely forever. Today is a starting point for building connections. I pray that this year, you take risks and are met with love as you reach out to those around you. I pray that you open up those lonely parts of yourself to God and others and find safety there.

For the Person Grieving a Loss:

You did not expect to end the year without all of the ones you love. The new year on the calendar is a reminder that this is will be the first year without them, and that pain cuts like a knife. There are no magic words to make this better, to make your loss less real. I honor that. You’re allowed to grieve. There do not have to be smiles, celebrations, or cheers for this January 1st. There can be tears, fear, and anger. The new year will be filled with new memories, and new experiences and life will grow around your grief. But for today, we honor that there is a hole in your life where a loved one once was. My prayer for you is that you are comforted in your grief by knowing that you are not alone and that your grief is a lament of love for the person you lost this past year. Some days this year will be hard, and some will be easier, but this New Year's Day can be what it needs to be.

For the Person Who Feels Stuck:

This past year did not end how you expected. Maybe you’re still in that job you hate, you didn’t get the house, the pregnancy didn’t happen, or you’re still struggling with depression. In whatever way you feel stuck, I invite you to forget the calendar change for a moment. The new date on the calendar is not a checkpoint at which you pass or fail your goals. This year, it is just another Sunday. It's another day where you are still waiting for the change you wish to see, but you have not failed. Waiting is one of the hardest things we have to do, and the new year can feel like a reminder of how long you have been waiting. I pray that you find the strength to keep waiting and the gentleness to be kind to yourself as you wait. I pray that the new year does not add extra pressure and that you can just let yourself be, rest, and find hope in waiting.

For the Person Starting the New Year Exhausted:

As you stand surrounded by ads that say things like “New Year, New Me,” weight loss ads, and influencers talking about the planner that will change your life, you just feel the weight of the last year. You’re so tired. Dear one, you are allowed to rest. January does not have to be the month of change. January can be the month of recovery, peace, and stillness. God knows you are weary. There will be a day when you have the energy to tackle a goal, take on new projects, or become the most organized version of yourself. But, maybe, just maybe, the new you of 2023 allows yourself to just be. I pray that you find freedom from the expectations of culture and even yourself. I pray that you find peace in knowing that you are enough as you rest.

For Everyone:

A new year is special because we pause and reflect and recalibrate. My prayer for each of us, myself included, is that we approach this new year and all its expectations with grace for ourselves. That we know slow steady progress is better than a quick overhaul of our whole life. That the first week of January is not a litmus test for the whole year. And, most importantly, our worth is not found in how we feel, how we look, or the goals we achieve. It is in the love we show to ourselves and others and in the identity of beloved children of God. Amen.

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