The Light of Newness
At some point, most of us have wished we could totally start over -- start over in school, at work, in relationships, at home, or even with ourselves. Perhaps we've even felt that the mistakes we've made are so big that there's no way we'll ever have a real opportunity to make a new life for ourselves. And yet, we keep hoping and trying. We make lists for ourselves at New Year's of things we'd like to improve about our situations, homes, attitudes, health, education, etc. But if we focus too much on the negative aspects of our lives, we shouldn't be surprised if we find that we're stuck in a rut and can't get out, that our experiences don't seem any better, or that we don't have the impetus to move forward.
In college, I had an experience that has since stood out to me as a visible demonstration of what happens when people look backward or forward. There had just been an ice storm. A friend and I were walking up a long, hilly road in the Midwest on a moonlit night through a lane of deciduous trees. The moon shone down, lighting up the snow-covered ground. The trees, with branches all covered in ice, absolutely sparkled. We felt like we were in an ice castle. We were filled with a great sense of gratitude for the beauty that completely surrounded us. Then we turned around to look back. We were shocked by what we saw. All the beauty had vanished, and we were staring at a forest path leading down to some unknown eerie place, like something you'd see in front of a haunted house. The branches looked like huge thickets of dusty and very creepy cobwebs. We turned back up the hill and were reassured to find that our ice palace was still there glistening in the moonlight. We talked about the difference as we continued toward the light.
It was so clear to us that when we look back and focus on the past -- turning our backs to the light -- we can't see any of the beauty. But when we look forward -- into the light -- we experience all the present goodness that surrounds us continually. Put in this light, it seems odd that we would ever choose to look at the cobwebs (mistakes, failures, disappointments, regrets) and focus on the past.
So how do we get a fresh start? There are a few stories and examples in the Bible that clearly explain how we must think and what we must do in order to feel the light of newness.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (John 3:1-7)
We must be "born of water and of the Spirit." OK. What does that mean?
- Water, in the Bible, symbolizes life -- spiritual life.
- This water, of course, is pure. Since it gives life, it cannot be contaminated: "so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh" (James 3:12). We can't be both spiritual and material. Since Jesus told us to be born "of the Spirit," we must be spiritual.
- If we keep looking to the "flesh" -- to things, people, teachers, family, work, food, others' opinions -- to tell us about our lives or current situations, we're looking in the wrong places.
- So, we need to purify our sense of life.
- Knowing that God is life, and life is Spirit certainly turns on the light in our thought.
- Because God is Spirit, we are thoroughly and wholly spiritual.
- Now, we just need to believe it, live it, and "enter into the kingdom of God."
Living in the light of Spirit does not mean that we just cover up the old with the new. We must be totally reborn. Jesus emphasized what happens if we try to take the band-aid approach, the seemingly easy way out:
No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:16, 17)
Jesus' words were so practical and applicable. What happens if we put the new on the old without ridding ourselves of the old? We lose the new. The clothes look worse, the bottles break, and all the effort we've put into preserving an old ("flesh") way of life is worthless.
- If we expect to feel and act new, we have to stop holding onto the past. The past is the past. It's gone. Isn't that nice? Isn't that a freeing thought?
- If we just try to cover up the old with the new, we're not really growing.
- We need to have the courage to look toward the light.
- Light certainly shows us what we need to see. And in the Bible, light and life are interchangeable. So when we look to the light, we're really looking to our true natures as pure children of God.
- If we wish to move forward, we need to "yield" up our old thought patterns -- let go of the old ideas, behaviors, concepts of ourselves or others -- and completely accept the new.
Paul also gave some practical advice to us in his letter to the Ephesians on how to renew ourselves:
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
- We have to stop talking about the old -- "put off…the former conversation." That's pretty direct. We don't want to hold outdated modes of thinking in thought.
- We can take advantage of the opportunity to have "the spirit of your mind" -- our thoughts, ideas, consciousness -- be formed anew.
- Paul says nothing about changing the body, the outward appearance, the situation. He only talks about renewing our thoughts, renewing our spirit.
- When our thoughts, our concepts about ourselves and others, get refreshed, then everything else -- our schoolwork, friendships, work, home lives, everything -- must be refreshed, too. The horse (our consciousness) pulls the cart (our body, experiences, etc.); the cart doesn't pull the horse.
- Our new concept of ourselves is holy.
Let's also remember the lessons from the story about the ice castle and cobwebs.
- When we have cobwebs in our house, we get a broom and brush them off of all the nooks and crannies that they occupy.
- Now, we don't fret, worry, or feel miserable about the cobwebs. We just take positive action.
- We can do the same thing with our lives: take positive action and brush aside all the cobwebs in our thoughts and experiences.
- If we mull over all our problems or make a laundry list of what we want changed about ourselves or others, then we're letting cobwebs grow in our thoughts and lives.
- If we turn our gaze towards the light, we bring into our experience beauty, joy, and peace, which never get old.
- The only time or place that we can live is in the "now." Since now is always new and can never be old, we always have the right to feel and act new.
- Focusing on and living in the now --
- seeing each situation as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of God;
- realizing that whatever is going on is blessing us;
- appreciating the talents we already have;
- being thankful for the good that is currently going on in our lives
-- will naturally and easily sweep away the cobwebs, just as light dispels darkness, making us feel new, refreshed, and happy.
So, as we think about what we'd like to have new in our lives, we can have the spirit of newness, of gratitude. Such an outlook makes us aware of the good that is already present in our experiences. If we look into the shadows, we'll find cobwebs. But if we look toward the light, we will experience an entirely pure view of ourselves -- the view God has of us. And God's view of us is even more magnificent than any ice castle ever could be.