The New Year can be a focus for hope and change: a time of decision, to choose certain paths and resist others. In Jeremiah 6:16 it says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Amid the pain and challenges of life, it is easy for us to be shaped by feelings which do the opposite of giving rest to our souls: resentment, anxiety and criticism of others.
Social media often stokes and fuels these tendencies. Its telling how often people give the reason for coming off Facebook or Instagram because it ‘is bad for their soul’.
Our souls need attention because human beings are more than just an amalgamation of physical and mental components.
We are spiritual beings: body, mind and soul. Whether we are religious or not, we seek a deeper meaning to life. As Augustine famously concluded from his own search for God:
Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you
Reflection and prayer
This year, time spent in prayer and reflection has been the ancient path that has most helped me. I don’t want to give a false impression that I am ‘good’ at spiritual practices. I am not. I am ill-disciplined, inconsistent and easily distracted.
But despite this, I know that being honest before God and reflecting on his truth is what has most helped me be the person I want to be. Taking time at the start of the day to do this has underpinned the best things I have done since lockdown.
It has helped me to be honest about my resentments, my tendency to blame others and to think more clearly about what would help those around me. Despite struggles and failures, it has helped me be a better family-member, a better friend to those who need it and better in my work.
Prayer helps re-orientate us. Inward-work can help shape our outward-life. To use Jeremiah’s words, it helps us find ‘the good way’ and (most importantly), walk in it.
Advice for the New Year
A few years ago I read these Five Helps for the New Year that Michael Ramsey, (Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-74) wrote for his clergy.
They are full of spiritual insight and good sense and I have them pinned on the wall above my desk:
- Thank God. Often and always. Thank him carefully and wonderingly for your continuing privileges and for every experience of his goodness. Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.
- Take care about confession of your sins. As time passes the habit of being critical about people and things grows more than each of us realize.
- Be ready to accept humiliations. They can hurt terribly but they can help to keep you humble. All these can be so many chances to be a little nearer to our Lord. There is nothing to fear, if you are near to the Lord and in his hands.
- Do not worry about status. There is only one status that Our Lord bids us be concerned with, and that is our proximity to Him. “If a man serve me, let him follow me, and where I am there also shall my servant be”. (John 12:26) That is our status; to be near our Lord wherever He may ask us to go with him.
- Use your sense of humour. Laugh at things, laugh at the absurdities of life, laugh at yourself.
Ramsey ends with this:
Through the year people will thank God for you. And let the reason for their thankfulness be not just that you were a person whom they liked or loved but because you made God real to them.
Inner soul work
Ramsey’s advice is deeply counter-cultural. It is the opposite of the self-asserting, self-promoting, anxious and resentful culture which often surround us and corrodes our soul.
Instead, it offers wisdom to help us on the ancient path of loving God and loving others: ‘a good way’ which is the route to finding rest for your soul.
Let’s take care of our souls. And may this inner-work equip us to live better lives in 2021. Happy New Year!