I feel like I’ve been sprinting since 2021 began, and it’s only looking back that I realize I was running a marathon this whole time. You can’t sprint a marathon.
But we all kind of have been anyway, haven’t we? It’s not just me. Whether it’s been dashing towards the ever-moving pandemic finish line or trying to keep up with the pace of this new world and our own changing personal circumstances as the result of it (tell me your life is the same as it was when the year began and I’ll show you the liar in the room), it’s been hard to keep up. Here at the end of the year, I’m not feeling so fleet-footed anymore.
(I’m moving on from this running metaphor now. I’m out of synonyms, first of all, and second of all I’m tired. We’re all tired. Let’s slow it down and talk about walking instead.)
It’s been a good year, hasn’t it? Not entirely, and maybe not even mostly. Maybe this is your worst year ever. But there have been good things, because there are always are.
I have seen people reaching deeper this year. Within themselves, within their relationships, within their faith. Calamity and uncertainty are so important. They are the test or correction we pass through to remove the fogginess and make our path clear.
A clear path is so, so important. The promise of a path is that you’ll get where you’re going, so long as you stay on it. Speed is unimportant. No need to run. Stay on the path and you’ll get there, no matter what may come.
It’s so easy to stray from the path when we are unbothered. When we walk the path with ease, we may think the way unimportant, as though it is our very footsteps that define the landscape, and not the carefully cultivated direction in which we are headed.
The mistake easily made, then, is to wander. To blaze our own trail as though any path will do so long as we are the ones who walk it. To think ourselves the source of our fortune or grace, to not recognize the already-been-there trailblazers and helping hands of friends, family, co-workers, systems, history. God.
Ever change your walk? I don’t mean “in life” or “with God,” I mean literally change the way you walk? I’ve done it consciously about 5 or 6 times, each time to temporary, embarrassing effect.
I don’t remember the specifics, but there have been a handful of times in my life when I was feel really, really full of myself. Maybe a girl I liked smiled at me or I won tickets to a concert on the radio or…I dunno. The reasons are forgotten, but I can remember these few times when I was feeling pretty cool and decided my walk should reflect that.
So, I held my head a little higher and sauntered about with a bit more… Crud, “more” nothing. I sauntered, okay? I don’t normally saunter.
And, every time I have ever done this I have tripped. I have stubbed my toe on a crack in the sidewalk, I have rolled my ankle coming off a step, I have banged by head on a low-hanging tree branch. Every time. It’s pathological.
I stopped trying to change my walk years ago because the lesson was finally learned. Well, a twofold lesson:
1. I am not cool.
2. I am not the builder of the path.
I have seen people succeed wildly by thinking the path unimportant and straying from it. That can happen. Some people can walk all cool like and not trip and fall down, but they can doom themselves just the same if they mistake the path as an inconsequential thing or something they control and then walk where they please. Success can be such a test in that way. In many ways, it’s the ultimate test.
This is why this year–this cruddy year full of disappointments, unfairness, injustice, and that dude down the street whose dog keeps crapping on your lawn–THIS year, is good. It is good to get knocked down into the dirt. To get down eye level with the path, search for it, and get back on.
This year, I think, is our opportunity for examination. For looking down at our feet and assessing where we are in relation to the path. Are we on it? Or far from it?
That’s the ultimate good all this bad can do. That, I would submit, is precisely how God works in our lives. He knocks us down sometimes to allow us to build back up properly. He hits us smack in the face with a low-hanging tree branch to help us to stumble back onto the path.
My own personal examinations this year have been difficult. I have become acutely aware in recent months of how inconsiderate I can be. How bullheaded. How unaware of what seem to me to be innocuous, unimportant moments of distraction or dismissiveness that affect those I care about and rely on most. I’m old enough now that I’ve removed a lot of guile from my being, but within all my good intentions, I have not always necessarily been intentionAL. It’s a hard lesson, and a nuanced one at that. But crucial.
So, I’m glad for 2021. It’a been a good year. And look, I know that my 2021 has been probably better than most–it’s not even in the Top 10 of my worst years–but I know from a bad year, and I can also tell you this: your best year and your worst year can be the same year.
And if not the literal best, then something adjacent to that. All this bad can work for good. It can help you stay on or get back to the path.
Think about that. Think about the math of that. Even the bad can be good? If I were the devil, that would really piss me off.