Every January I sit down at the kitchen table with a ball-point pen and transfer all the recurring events in our family life from the old paper calendar to a new paper calendar. No, I have not embraced the digital era—yet! Maybe next year…. In the process of writing down birthdays, anniversaries, and other important yearly occurrences, I reflect on all the appointments and events noted and crossed off over the past year. Where does the time go?
Good pessimist that I am, I tend to rehearse the past. The future is mostly unknown and therefore scary. Also, how much control do I have over it, really? See, glass half empty. However, it seems healthy to spend a moment at the first of the year to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going.
I often think time resembles a train track. I’m standing on a platform at the Presentburg Station looking down the track. I watch the caboose of the express to Pastville fade away on my left and the caboose of the special to Futuretown speed away on my right. Time moves so quickly in both directions.
When I think about all the stops the Pastville train has made and I get nostalgic about the several (!) decades of my life, I turn to Psalm 77. Like the psalmist, I easily get swamped by misery when I dwell on the suffering life has brought my way. “I cry aloud to God; and he hears me. On the day of my distress I am seeking Adonai; my hands are lifted up; my tears flow all night without ceasing; my heart refuses comfort. When remembering God, I moan; when I ponder, my spirit fails” (vv. 1-3). The author of Psalm 77 is in obvious distress. In the first few verses he calls out to God and seeks God, but he won’t be comforted. He weeps in the darkness. He moans when he thinks of God. He questions God and loses sight of God’s goodness. His spirit shrivels. At times, I also mourn and wonder: where is God when I suffer?
The psalmist continues to describe his pain, but slowly begins to open up to God. “You hold my eyelids [and keep me from sleeping]; I am too troubled to speak. I think about the days of old, the years of long ago; in the night I remember my song, I commune with myself, my spirit inquires” (vv. 4-6). God won’t let him sleep until he can come to grips with his pain. He knows God has not abandoned him, even if it feels like it. This is something I grapple with, as well. Sometimes, when I stew over the difficult things in my past: heartaches, embarrassments, sicknesses, sins, the death of loved ones, and clinical depression, I say with the psalmist “‘Will Adonai reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his grace permanently disappeared? Is his word to all generations done away? Has God forgotten to be compassionate? Has he in anger withheld his mercy?’ (Selah)” (vv. 7-9). I especially feel this way if my present isn’t going so great either!
But on the train to Pastville there are also many good memories. I think of all the times God has made his presence known to me, the many blessings in my life, funny jokes, wonderful gatherings with family and friends, God’s provision through thick and thin, our amazing Newberg Friends Church family, and joyous surprises he has given me over the years. This is when I remember my song and turn to God with open arms once again. Then I recall how God always rode the train with me, even during the difficult times. He did not forget to be compassionate and his mercy lasts for all time. He suffered when I suffered, rejoiced when I rejoiced, and when the train went through long, dark tunnels he always brought me through to the other side.
In the present moment—between the trains—it’s easy to lose sight of God’s provision unless I make an effort to remember how he has been faithful in the past. Then I add, “that’s my weakness—[supposing] the Most High’s right hand could change” (v. 10 ). God rides both trains and stands with me in the present. He is master of time and space. He does not change. He is not capricious. He is sovereign and always working for my good. Like the psalmist, I choose to remember his steadfast love and mercy. “So I will remind myself of Yah’s doings; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on your work and think about what you have done. God, your way is in holiness. What god is as great as God?” (vv. 11-13).
The psalmist ends his song by recalling how God led Israel out of Egypt and walked before the people through the parted Red Sea. I too can choose to remember specific instances of God’s faithfulness, such as his hand of protection on me when I totaled my first car on Highway 240, the gift he has given Carl and me of our two fantastic girls, and that he worked it out for me to spend time with my grandparents as they were leaving this world for heaven. And that’s merely the tip of the iceberg of God’s goodness to me. God is trustworthy in the past, in the present, and in the future. With this in mind I don’t have to be anxious about boarding the train to Futuretown. So sound the whistle! All aboard! Likely, the train will make stops at stations of both joy and suffering in coming days, but God will ride with me, just as he always has. He will give me what I need when I need it, and I can trust him to never stop loving me, no matter where the train to the future takes me. So I fill out our new calendar with anticipation, wondering what awesome things God will accomplish in 2015.