This column was featured in the February/ March 2023 edition of The Record.
by Catriona Murray
We like the ‘blank page’ quality of beginning a new year, don’t we? There is something promising about it, and the vague possibility of an exciting, improved version of ourselves emerging. ‘New year, new me’ has become such a cliché that it’s now fashionable to laugh at the gym memberships, fancy journals and diet sheets that signify one’s subscription to the fad. Indeed, it is not a mere fad – it’s more of a mass delusion.
People cannot transform themselves just because the year has turned. If you ate an excess of pizza and didn’t exercise much in 2022, there’s a good chance 2023 will be just the same. Ditto all those abandoned diaries, and resolutions to shop less, and drink less and be better people. You might manage some of it, of course – you might discover that healthier eating, or more walking can be achieved with a little willpower.
But you will still be you. Essentials don’t change overnight. Outwardly, folk may see you look thinner, or more rested, with fewer dark circles under your eyes. Maybe you will be reading more improving books, and committing to good works. Yet the core of who you are remains the same.
Our souls are curious things, I often think. They are the immortal, essential part of us. Really, your soul IS you. Yet it is the one aspect of our being that we are powerless to change by our own endeavours. Only God can transform our innermost being and begin the work that one day conforms it to the original pattern: his own. This is something that brings home to me the sheer intimacy, the personal and individual nature of the relationship each one of us has with Christ. While we and our souls are inseparable from each other, it is he who knows how to treat every one.
How often in prayer have you struggled to articulate what ails you? I know I have, many times. We don’t always know what the issue is – and we almost never self-prescribe the right remedy.
The comfort I draw upon again and again, however, is the fact that he knows. I don’t need to use words in the deepest prayers of my heart, and I certainly don’t need to tell God what to do for my good.
There are self-styled gurus and experts aplenty, waiting to tell you what to eat, what to read, how to dress, what to believe – even how to feel. Every year, countless people trust them with important aspects of their lives, without knowing anything of their qualifications beyond the hype.
Christ, though, is the least hyped person who ever lived. Those of us whose job it is to build him up, to say to everyone we meet, ‘come, see a man’, are often too busy trying to fix ourselves to remember that the work is in hand.
The work, my friends, is in the safest hands.
Consider his hands and what we know of them. They are not soft, brought up to a genteel lifestyle: they were used to carpentry, and then to an itinerant existence, with no place to call ‘home’, except, of course, that house of many mansions, where he is preparing a place for his disciples. These same hands washed the feet of others, they healed the sick, they dispensed comfort, they broke bread and poured wine. He clasped them in prayer and raised them in benediction. And, let us not forget, he also used them to turn the agents of commerce from the temple.
At the end of a short and turbulent ministry, then, those hands were pierced for us.
Imagine if it ended there. If Christ had been a mere blasphemer as the Pharisees accused, if he had been just a man who died an ignominious death after a brief life of service …
But those same hands laid aside his own grave clothes, and rolled the stone away.
At the start of 2023, what a privilege, to know that those are the hands into which we are recommitting ourselves. Of course we each have our own hopes, dreams, and worries, but Jesus knows that and deals with us accordingly. We don’t need any other life coach but him. It can be difficult to live this in practice, but we also don’t need to keep putting our hands back on the tiller, not if we trust in the words of that popular hymn:
‘We need not fear, the Lord is near, and Christ is at the helm’.