A New Year
J.R. Miller (1840-1912)
The ending of a year calls us to thought. It is a good time to take account of our life, to see just how we stand and where. Introspection is not wholesome as a habit of life — but he is living recklessly who never looks into his own heart to see if all is going well. We need to get our bearings anew now and then, so as to know precisely where we are tending.
A wise thing to do at the end of a year is to forget a good deal. Leaving an old year is somewhat like moving out of an old house. Many things accumulate, which are well enough in their time and place — but which are not worth keeping after they have served their purpose. Many things are good for the use which is made of them — but cannot be used again. It is not worth while, therefore, to keep them among our stores. They are only so much rubbish. One of the best things we can do in changing homes is to make a bonfire of old, worn-out things.
There is much in an old year that we will be very foolish to carry over into the new year. As we grow older we ought, at least, to grow wiser. We have done many things this year as the outcome of inexperience or of folly. However we may excuse ourselves for these acts, since we did not know any better — there will be no excuse for us if we continue the same follies when we do know better.
The science of living, someone says, is not to make no mistakes — but not to repeat our mistakes. Yet some people do repeat their mistakes over and over, all through their life. We would better do more wisely.
There is a sense, also, in which we should forget even the good things we have done during the year. Some people live altogether too much in their past. They pat themselves on the back when they have done anything worth while, and are content to go many days on the strength of the bit of self-congratulation. There are men who cherish very sacredly every memory of their own good deeds, their commendable acts, their charities and philanthropies, and every word of praise spoken of them by others, so that not a scrap of the precious glory ever can be lost.
Some men keep scrap-books of all press notices of them and their work and all printed references to them and commendations of them. There must be a certain sort of comfort for these people in going over and over again the reminiscences of their own distinguished past.
But those who are intent of making the most they can of their lives, find little time for such blissful brooding. The moment one piece of work is finished, another is calling them. They learn to fill each day with the largest usefulness they can crowd into its hours, and then to close the day as one closes a book which has been read to its last chapter and is now to be laid away.
They forget even the best of their past, and leave it behind while they hasten on to better things. They never look back for achievements or attainments in which to rest; they believe the best is still before them — yet to be achieved or attained.
The year that is gone is lost to them, only as a field in which they have been sowing living seed. Their words and acts and influences are the seeds. They will grow, and thus the year will be a garden plot. They cannot go over the days again, and they do not need to do so if they have lived them well. Theirs was the sowing — others will reap the harvest. They are quite content to let their work speak for them, and they forget the things they have done, leaving all in God’s hands.
So our duty is to keep our face always to the front. We have nothing to do with time that is gone. We cannot re-live it. It we have wasted its opportunities, we cannot recall them. All we can do then, is to ask God to forgive our mistakes and overrule them, and bring good out of them even yet, while we go on to new and better living.
We should also leave behind us, when we pass out of the old year into the new — all grudges and unkindly feelings — all memory of hurts received from others. The world is not always loving. Many people are thoughtless. Even good people say and do things heedlessly which cause pain to gentle hearts. If we persist in gathering up all the fragments of injury and injustice and unkindness along our days, we will soon have our twelve baskets full — but not with fragments of bread, which our Master bade his disciples gather up that nothing might be lost.
We should never allow a crumb of love to be lost. Love is bread. All the gentle and kindly things of the year, we should keep and cherish. But it is not the will of the Master that we should carry with us the memory of anything unloving. We are taught to forgive the hurts we receive — all that is unkind or ungrateful in the conduct of others toward us.
The Scriptures exhort us not to let the sun go down upon our anger. If we ought not to carry any bitter feeling out of a day that is gone, much less should we take over from an old year into a new one the recollection of anything unloving. Let us leave the thorns — and take only the roses with us into our new life.
A new year should mark a new beginning of life, and we should have in it only whatever things are true, whatever things are just, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely.