Even those of us whose schooldays are long-gone have some sense of September as the start of a new year. Barbecue charcoal and plastic chairs have vanished from the shops, replaced by the Back to School range of tiny white shirts, shiny shoes and attractive stationery which we look at with a mixture of fondness and regret. We too were once nearly five, full of hope and promise and determination. (Watch them as they write their names in their brand new books, their little hands clutching the pen, their tongues curled in concentration.)
Eventually, of course, the page is blotted, the shoes are scuffed and the lovely white shirt is creased. The wrong turning in the road is taken, the poison is drunk, the harmful words are spoken. And however much we might want things to be different, they are always as they are. We always start from here. From the controversial outworkings of democracy, to the fearful state of the nations, to our apparent inability to wean ourselves off cream cakes: all seems flawed and fallen. New Year? It’ll be just the same as the old one.
While such despairing is understandable, we must never give up our vision for the world, or give in to a version of ourselves which has no place for hope. Our value as human beings does not depend on keeping our noses clean and our lives free from error. Our goodness does not lie in attaining perfection. We are good simply because we are made in the image of a good God, made in love, made for love. If we can grasp that idea, all else follows.
We won’t ever return to the purity of childhood, neither will our lives be blank pages. But the three Rs of remembering, reflecting and resolving might just help.
Remember who you really are, full of the dignity of humankind. Reflect on your behaviour for five minutes every day, noting when you live courageously and generously and when you’re mean or fearful. Resolve to live the life you truly hope for, not the life you’re prepared to settle for. And that’ll mean keeping hopeful, even when the shirt and the shoes and the page seem beyond repair.