On Saturday, May 7, 2016 I had the privilege of watching 520+ graduates walk the stage in Charleston Southern University’s commencement ceremony. This ceremony was an important marker in the development of each of these students, a stone of remembrance of what each has accomplished in there time at CSU. In another sense a ceremony like this also marks the beginning of a new chapter of vocation, life, and ministry. The end is also the beginning.
When we think of new beginnings, we typically think of words like “energy,” “excitement,” and “optimism.” Each of these words seem to resonate well with the emotions that accompany a new endeavor. However, it is also the case that disappointment can be associated with new beginnings as well.
In his work The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis records the fictitious correspondence between an elder demon (Screwtape) and his understudy nephew (Wormwood). In his third letter, Screwtape draws Wormwood’s attention to the difficult season of new beginnings (esp. following conversion) as a time in which to water seeds of disappointment. He writes,
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
As our newly minted CSU graduates begin their next chapter of life and vocation they are likely to face the “disappointment or anticlimax” of new beginnings noted by Lewis.
It is not easy to begin; beginning is hard work. It takes a great deal of effort and energy to begin. So how can we renew our thinking about the difficulty and anti-climatic disappointment of new beginnings according to God’s word and his kingdom? While there is much more to say than will be said below, I would like to offer four ways in which to renew our thinking when faced with the difficulty of a new beginning.
Recognize the Inevitability of Disappointment
First, a major key to overcoming disappointment or anticlimax of a new beginning is to recognize that it is inevitable. Difficulty is endemic to life in a fallen world. Things are not the way that they are supposed to be, and this applies as much to us as persons as it does the world around us. The world a difficult place, and it is a place made difficult by the sin of our first father and mother (Gen 3). Further, we must recognize that we have and continue to contribute to the problem through our own sin. So we need not fret as though the difficulty is unexpected.
Embrace the Difficulty with Joy
Second, we should rejoice and embrace the difficulty! We need to let the difficulty of the trial of a new beginning have its work in us. James 1:2–4 states, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2–4).
Of course the “various trials” spoken of here extends the deepest and darkest moments of our lives. This is especially true of those facing social ostracism, economic censure, and bodily harm for the sake of bearing witness to Christ. Nonetheless, the phrase “various trials” encompasses ALL trials and difficulties we face, even the small ones . . . even the difficulty that accompanies a new beginning. As such, we must allow ALL trials to have their full effect in producing “endurance” (or “perseverance” [NIV]; “steadfastness” [ESV]; “patience” [KJV]) in us. The end result, we are told by James, is that we will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4). In short, God is always working to conform us to his character, and this is especially true in our “various trials.”
Fix Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Third, we must fix our eyes upon Jesus. The author of Hebrews writes,
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb 12:1–3)
How does the Christian endure hardship and difficulty? By looking to Jesus and considering his endurance in the most difficult of work, his work on the cross. Once again, this applies both to the martyr who is walking toward the arena as well as to the first-time, mother whose husband is out at sea. For both extremes and all in between endurance is found by looking to Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith.”
Wait Even as You Begin
Finally, we must wait even as we begin. This may sound contradictory. How does one both wait and begin at the same time? Writing to his apostolic representative Titus whom he had tasked with a new mission on the Isle of Crete, Paul writes,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11–14).
Paul encourages Titus to reflect upon the grace of God and its implications as well as to teach and exhort others with these truths (Titus 2:15). Not only does God’s grace “train” us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” it also teaches us “to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” This distinctive, godly living is characterized by anticipation, a waiting for Christ’s return. These believers join all believers in “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus . . .” (v. 13). They are to wait upon the return of the Lord even as they live godly lives in the present age.
In the same way, we must wait even as we take up the challenge of a new beginning. Looking to Jesus doesn’t simply mean considering his example of endurance and imitating it; it also means recognizing the cosmic and final implications of his work. He is bringing our sin-sick world and this life with all its difficulties (big and small) to his own good ends. He is working all things together for our good and his glory!
Are you or someone you know facing the disappointment or anticlimax of a new beginning? Are you overwhelmed by the energy and effort that you know will be required to take on the mountain in front of you? If so, may your mind and heart be renewed according to the truth and reality of the gospel.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1942), 7.