A few days ago, our very senior miniature schnauzer, Dexter, began having digestive issues. He got sick numerous times, and became more lethargic. We tried all of the home remedies we could think of, but they haven’t seemed to help.
This morning (Tuesday) was the first morning our vet was open in 2024. As soon as I could, I called in and explained the situation to them. They had a few more things for us to try at home with Dexter before they said he needs to be seen. So, I went across town and picked up special food, some probiotic packets, and two digestive support gels in pre-measured syringes. All of it feeling a lot like a Hail Mary intervention.
As I write this (and even as you read this), I have absolutely no idea whether or not the interventions given to us by the vet will work. I have no idea whether or not Dexter will bounce back just one more time. I have no idea whether or not he is suffering. All I know is that we have to wait and see and field whatever comes our way. This, I am not so good at doing…maybe you aren’t either?
As I walked this morning and as I have been out and about today in the truck, I haven’t been able to avoid all of the new year-focused news stories promising that this new year can bring about a “new you,” and that all has been made new by the simple flipping of the calendar. But Dexter isn’t shiny and new…and neither am I.
The same problems that plagued Dexter at the end of 2023 are plaguing him still. I still have my same insecurities, my same hangups and health issues. I still get hurt by the same things and sometimes even the same people. My blonde-ish hair still hides the gray that’s beginning to appear in it, and I’m still worried about the people I love the most in this world. There is nothing about this new year that feels new…besides maybe the newness of having to write 2024 instead of 2023 on documents now.
For some of us, this sameness is a surprise, particularly in the face of all the world’s focus on all things being new. But for contemplatives and those who practice contemplative prayer, the sameness is part of God’s unveiling. It is to say, “This is what IS now,” while leading us toward the question, “What does this have to say to me?” The sameness asks us to listen more deeply to our lives to learn what it has to teach us–just as it IS, not as we wish it to be. It is, Richard Rohr says, an invitation to look at the circumstances of our lives here and now–and not the changing of the calendar–and inquire, “What’s the message or gift in this for me? How is God in this event? Where is God in this suffering?”
The changing of the calendar year isn’t a magical time when everything is shiny and new. Despite what the song says, old acquaintances actually aren’t forgotten and never brought to mind. Everything–including us and our dogs–are the same…until we aren’t. Until God’s new thing is unveiled to us, in us, and through us. Which is good news, I think, for those of us prone to hustling–trying to become something we are not yet or maybe will never be. We don’t have to feel like new year failures because we are the same as we were just days ago last year. We can settle in and trust that–if we’re willing to stare deeply into the circumstances of our lives–we will see a new message and receive new insight on how God is showing up…even in our uncertainties…even in our suffering.
It’s not an “all at once” kind of thing. It’s a little at a time. Over and over again. The gift that truly keeps on giving all year round. Or as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” That’s not a promise just for the new year or even for the end of our lives…it’s a promise for right now too. Hold onto that promise, and maybe let the high ideals of the new year go. God is at work...always and already God is at work.
On the journey toward knowing with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.