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Questions for a new year

God come down to the dust so that nothing is without meaning.

Another year folds slowly to a close, and my mind skims over it for evidence of meaning. It’s as if I’m chasing something in a dream, and each time I round I corner, I catch sight of its hem and nothing more; it leaves me uneasy. What more could I, should I, have done with the past 12 months? As my years accumulate, what story do they tell?

I see the failures, the lack. I think of the neighbour I couldn’t work up the courage to ask to church. The food bank I never did call to offer some volunteer time. The students who saw more impatience and disappointment than empathy and encouragement. I see in myself so few “Christian” characteristics: so little “witnessing,” such meagre spiritual fruit, a shortage of victory. These thoughts circle like hungry dogs, coming up empty. Could I call this life Christian, for all its shortages?

Then a new thought comes, and the dogs pause. What if the whole purpose of my life on this planet, the only task of significance I’ve been given, is to make a difference in ONE life? What if that task was merely the planting – not even harvesting – of the tiniest and plainest of seeds? Would my life be worthwhile then? What if I never wrote a novel, never created policy, never started a not-for-profit, never invented something important or destroyed something awful, never impressed a person or impacted a community, never made a name for myself, never cured or saved or prevented or overcame, but simply said or did, even without knowing it, a small thing that pointed one person toward God? Would that be enough to make meaning of the years I’ve been given?

Abraham was worried about the fate of Sodom for the sake of one person, his nephew. I think of him hedging his bets with God – “Do I dare? Do I dare?” – and asking if the city could be saved for an ever-decreasing number of righteous inhabitants. Could it be saved for the sake of 40? Thirty-five? Ten? Yes, came the answer. Yes it could. Again and again, yes. Abraham’s God was unconcerned with proportions, ratios, primitive concepts of fairness.

But what if the only life in which I make a difference is that of my own child or children? Isn’t that the least altruistic mission field in the world? Don’t pagans give their best to their own children? Any impact I have on their lives seems so . . . unremarkable. Is it enough that I pick them up from daycare and school every single day? Is it enough that I make dinner, wash the dishes, wipe the crumbs from the counter, clean up the toys? Is it enough that I repeat tasks ad infinitum that tomorrow will not even be visible? Is it enough that I bite my tongue, tough it out, don’t give up?

I think of Jesus, there in the silent workshop with Joseph, hour after hour. How many wood chips did he drop through the dusty afternoons of some 31 years? How many pieces of wood did he plane, how many splinters did he catch, as he faithfully carried out an apprenticeship with no apparent relation to his calling? The vast majority of the time of this most-famous-individual-who-ever-lived is wholly unknown, a complete historical void, unmentioned in the very book that foretold his birth.

Oh God, are my small, dutiful acts worth anything, really? If it is all I ever give, is it enough?

The answer comes to me with a warm, resounding YES! This was the purpose of the Bethlehem babe, God come down to the dust so that nothing is without meaning. This is the very heart of redemption – that the smallest task can be mission, the smallest word, holy. A holy life is a life at peace with its own work, the work it has been given. It is enough. Yes, it is.

  • Emily Cramer grew up in the Toronto area and spent most of her twenties living nomadically. She completed her English B.A. in New Brunswick (1999), burned through some existential angst in eastern Ontario and in Scotland, and finally wrapped up a Master’s in Christianity & the Arts in British Columbia (2008). She now lives in Barrie, Ontario with her husband and daughter, where she works as a college Communications teacher and hopes to stay put, at least for awhile. She has been privileged with a number of writing opportunities over the years, such as a summer newspaper column on the natural environment and a novella for her graduating thesis, and is now feeling honoured to be able to explore the next leg of her travels - parenting and family life - with the CC.

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