As I reflect on and write this post I realize that we are almost one week into the new year, 2013. This time last week I gathered with family and friends to enjoy, together, the last day of 2012. It was a fun evening, culminating in watching the Times Square ball descend into a new year. But what does it all mean? As I was relaxing with a good cup of coffee on that first morning of a new year, I came upon this Marvin comic and thought “How true!” What made this morning any different from the previous morning? It felt the same, I did the same things, the people around me were the same, the scenery was the same, and yes, the smell was the same. But I am told it is the start of a new year! New beginnings from the old. New opportunities and adventures! Ahhhh….. the promise of new. But it didn’t feel new. As you reflect on your first week in this new year, does it smell new to you? What is different for you? Some of you reading this can tell us what is new. In your life’s journey this new year may have brought about change. And if so, I hope it is a positive change. But what if this new year still smells like the last year? What if I feel cheated out of that new car smell experience?
One of the reasons I thought this comic was relevant was that many of us place too high of expectations on ourselves, especially this time of the year. I am not saying that this is not a fine time for resolutions. Of course it is! But are these expectations reasonable? Challenging oneself, say for instance, to lose weight or stop smoking, is a growth opportunity. And through challenges, struggles, ups and downs, your goal may be achieved! Go for it! But what if you found yourself wanting more once you realized the new year didn’t smell any different from the old? What if, one week later, you now realize nothing has changed? For too many of us this is what happens along our journey. We expected a particular day to be one way, and when it wasn’t we were disappointed. But was what you imagined realistic?
Yesterday, January 6, the Christian world celebrated the Epiphany The commemoration of the moment when the three kings, or wise men, arrived at the birth place of Jesus. They had journeyed far and long, following a star in the sky. They were undoubtedly scientific and intellectual people, noticing something different something new, in the sky and following it to its end. Somehow they had an idea of what they would find. They saw a significance in this new sign in the sky, interpreting it to signify a powerful person, a king. They had to search out this king. They had to pay homage to such a great king for whom even the sky led a path. I have no doubt that although wearied by the journey, they were excited at the anticipation. Excited because for them, their world was now different. And yes, when they met this new and powerful king, it might even smell different!
When they arrived at the star’s end I have no doubt that the world around them “smelled” different; they ended up in a barn! A barn! A new great and powerful king, the person they just had to find, was in a barn?! And, … wait for it, …. this king whom they were seeking – turned out to be a baby! Talk about blown expectations. Their journey led them to a barn and a baby lying in a manger (a feeding trough). Talk about a let down. Along our life’s journey, when these types of experiences happen, what do we typically do? For me, and probably many of us, we are disappointed, sullen, depressed. The comic above seems all too true. As maybe it did for some this New Year’s morning.
But wait. What did these wise men do? They knelt in homage to the king. They were able to recognize that although their expectations of a powerful man on a throne were in reality a baby lying in a feeding trough, nonetheless recognized that their journey mattered. They had found the powerful king whom they searched. These wise men, after paying homage, left to their home by a different route. A new path. How symbolic for each of us. Their journey was life changing. They came to the king by one path, yet left by a different, new path.
For me, in my faith, that king is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As with the wise men, when we journey toward Him, toward that inner-peace, we can’t help but be changed. When we truly seek to find greatness, we can’t help but to be changed by the greatness we sought. How often do we feel disappointment at our journey’s end and respond by turning around and going home? What if the wise men did the same? But no, they went beyond their own expectations and were open to a new way of looking at things. They didn’t act upon what they thought, rather, they looked more deeply at the situation and recognized that their expectations were wrong. Yes, it was a mighty king they found, but not how they imaged him. Yet that didn’t matter. They learned to look at situations differently, not just from their own perspective It is that shift in perceiving and thinking which allowed them to see what was really present, and to be changed by the experience.
In this new year, when our experiences don’t smell as they “should” (according to how I feel they should smell), try to take a moment and look at your situation, the new year, and find the deeper reality. Look beyond yourself to other possibilities. Challenge yourself to learn something new about this world around us. And in so doing, I have no doubt that your life’s journey will begin to take a new path.
May you all have a happy and blessed New year, filled with many new paths, adventures, and even new smells.