What’s So Great about the New Year?

Here we are again. We have been here before and Lord willing we will be here again. A new year. Why do people make such a big deal about the turn of a calendar day?

There’s something exciting about things that are new. Various seasons of life are marked by the description of new. When people get married, they are called newlyweds depicting the reality of their new venture in life together. New parents are those who, for the first time in their life, are embarking on the journey of raising up another human being. There are other times when new is the best way to describe a change in life. For example, think about a new job, a new home, a new car, or even a new puppy. When something is new it carries with it an expectation of potential and an excitement for what lies ahead. This is also felt in simple pleasures like new restaurant or a new episode of a favorite show. The new year is similar, as people look ahead with expectation and excitement.

So as the hype of Christmas settles into the rearview and you begin to regain some routine after the holidays, I want to encourage you to consider why it can be good to reflect on the value of treating the new year with fresh expectation and intention.

The start of a new year is a great time to engage in personal reflection and consider modifications you might want to make in life. But it is not just an exercise in self-improvement. I want to offer four reasons why this can actually be a means of stewarding your life for the glory of God. At the risk of being misunderstood, I don’t want to communicate that setting “New Year’s resolutions” is a kind of spiritual mandate or act of piety. I will say that whether it is at the start of a new year or any other time of the year, making intentional adjustments or participating in thoughtful planning can be a helpful exercise in a Christian’s life. In light of this, I offer four considerations to encourage you in making the the most of this New Year.

1. Reflection allows for re-evaluation. In our first years of life, we visit the doctor regularly for what are called well-baby checks. The reason is not because anything is wrong, but it is to make sure things are right. Taking time to reflect at the start of a new year can be viewed as a wellness check. It is an opportunity to take a look at your life the way a doctor examines a young patient and evaluates how things are going. A careful examination of our life helps us to make any needed adjustments.

It is a sign of spiritual health to take time to examine ourselves. Lamentation 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.” Don’t wait for things to be wrong in your life. Let the New Year be a time of self-examination and prayerfully consider what changes may be needed.

2. A stagnant life is an unhealthy life. Continuing with the metaphor of the well-baby exams, the doctor is concerned if a child’s progress stops or slows. When a child fails to thrive or misses key benchmarks it raises alarm. When personal growth stops in our lives it is also a concerning sign. But change does not need to be a grand event. Slight improvements overtime bring significant change. Big goals or changes can be helpful but small changes eventually create major shifts in the long run. If change is daunting or discouraging, think small. This is often the way the Lord works on us.

Reflect on the year ahead. What small shifts do you need to make? Maybe it is in your spiritual life? Maybe it is with a relationship? Whatever it is, use this New Year as a time to commit to that change no matter how small. God brings change slowly — one degree at a time.  Allow 2 Corinthians 3:18 to remind you that, “we all…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

3. Planning is a part of the Imago Dei. As created beings we bear the image of God (Imago Dei). Every single human being has the likenesses of the God who made them stamped on them. When we create we reflect our creator God. When we manage or lead we do so in part because the image of a sovereign God is on us. When we plan we imitate a strategic God who calculated where to put the stars and at what place the ocean should end. Before the foundations of the world, He was planning.

As we look ahead to a new year with more specific intention we must take all of our plans and lay them before the One who holds our future. We plan but the Lord establishes our path (Proverbs 16:9).

4. New is a gift from God. Some of the best things in Scripture are described as new. In Christ we have new life (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are given a new name that only God knows (Revelation 2:17). We will live in a new world where all things are as they should be. In fact, the final promise of the Bible related to the Lord’s returning is that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Celebrating new is a small picture of what we will one day know in full. New is a gift that should be stewarded well. It is a treasure not to be taken for granted.

As you enter a new year consider how you might engage it with intention and purpose. One helpful resource is Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. Use the questions to pause and reflect regarding the direction of your life.

Women, Depression, and the Pandemic | Five Tips to Help the Downcast

In the last year, depression rates have climbed significantly, and women are not at all left out of the rising numbers. In order to best understand what might help women who experience depression, we should know a little bit about what might be causing it. 

Depression can be triggered by the seasons. You have likely heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that impacts people most commonly in the fall and winter months when the hours of sunlight are fewer and people are less active. What you might not know is that in the United States, it is estimated SAD affects nearly ten million people, and it is four times more common in women than in men.  

Genetics or physical health may also be a contributing factor. Medical issues such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, chronic health issues, and hormonal fluctuations can increase risk of depression. Hormonal changes are not uncommon throughout seasons of life. These changes may often be accompanied by an alteration in mood, leading to depression. 

Spiritual hopelessness may be another cause of depression for believers. Living in a fallen world has dispiriting effects. The Scriptures, especially the psalms, give voice to the suffering and struggle of believers. The Bible shares firsthand stories of the depressed. Words such as downcast, discouraged, fainthearted, and troubled describe the darkness of depression that believers experience. 

Circumstances also play a role. Depression is more common during difficult life circumstances, such as seasons of loss, unexpected change, or disappointing situations. In late June, as the number of COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket, psychiatrist-in-chief, Dr. Maurizio Fava, at Massachusetts General Hospital predicted, “… the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant stress and psychological distress for a large proportion of the population. And we know the rates are progressively increasing.” 

As the number of coronavirus cases rise so do the number of people suffering with depression. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that the rate of people experiencing symptoms of depression is now three times higher than before the pandemic.3

Now we find ourselves in the midst of the dreary months of winter. Add to this the physical factors of women’s health, and is it any wonder why so many struggle with depression? But knowing the potential cause is only partially beneficial. What we really want to know is what will help. Visiting your doctor is always a wise first step. This can help to determine if there are physical factors that need to be addressed. If you are experiencing any disturbing changes in mood or symptoms of depression, make an appointment with your doctor. 

In addition to seeking medical care, the tips below offer help for the downcast soul. Consider using one tip per day for the next five days. Engage with them intentionally, personally, and prayerfully. But also consider going through them with a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor.  

Tip Number OneYou aren’t always going to feel this way. 

It is normal to have ups and downs, but depression has a way of clouding the good days. Despite how heavy the present moment seems, it doesn’t disqualify you from future hope. Remember that you have been here before, and God has brought you through. You may not feel it now, but take a moment to remind yourself of the goodness of God. Read Psalm 100:5 and 119:89-90 and write down a few ways you have seen God’s faithfulness in past struggles. 

Tip Number TwoIt is normal to need help and wise to pursue it

We live in a culture that glorifies independence and self-sufficiency, but we were actually created for the opposite. It was intended for us to need others, and we were designed to live in dependence on God. Seasons of depression remind us that we need support. Seeking help is not a display of weakness but wisdom. Read Proverbs 11:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Who are the people in your life that give you helpful counsel or encouragement? Reach out and connect with them this week.

Tip Number Three: Set reasonable expectations. 

You have never lived through a pandemic before. There is no playbook for how this should go or how it should look. Life has been disrupted, and adjusting has been hard. If the months of living in a pandemic have ushered you into depression, avoid getting caught up in how you should be feeling or thinking. God knows your frame. He is gentle with you in your weakness. Read Psalm 103:14 and Hebrews 4:15-16. How do these verses help you set more reasonable expectations for yourself during seasons of depression?

Tip Number Four: You are more than your feelings. 

Feelings are a response to situations. When situations are hard and discouraging, it makes sense that you would be upset or troubled. Don’t criticize yourself for having bad feelings in the midst of bad circumstances. On the other hand, be careful that you don’t become absorbed in your feelings to the point that they define you. You may feel like all is lost, but you are not a lost cause. Take your changing feelings to an unchanging God. Read Lamentations 3:20-24. Notice the shift from feelings to truth in the passage. In the midst of your low feelings, what is one truth from this passage that you can call to mind? Write it out in a journal, on a note card, or in a note in your phone.

Tip Number Five: Prioritize time with the Lord

This can be especially challenging in the midst of a season of depression, but it is a lifeline. Even if your efforts to connect with the Lord are abbreviated or modified, don’t give up. If you have gone through the above tips, you have already started to engage with the Lord! This week, think of other ways you can meet with God. Consider listening to worship music. Ask a friend to pray for you or with you. Take a walk outside and notice anything that reminds you of God’s creation or provision. Choose a verse that gives you hope. Write it out and try reading it out loud several times a day. Consider Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 42:5; and Jeremiah 31:3 as suggestions for this exercise.

After taking a closer look at some of the causes of depression as well as some helpful tips, I hope you have seen that it is nothing to tackle on your own. If you are struggling, take the courageous step to reach out to a trusted friend or counselor and share your feelings. If you know someone suffering from depression, your friendship can go a long way in the journey through the darkness. 

Written by Eliza Huie for publication originally on LifeWay Women.