TaxProf Blog op-ed: Renewal Series: Anticipating the New Thing God is Doing, by Chalak Richards (Pepperdine) (originally published in Pepperdine Spiritual Life Blogcast):
"If you say you are grateful one more time, I'm going to reach through this screen and grab you!"
I couldn't believe I said those words to one of my dearest friends, but I did. I knew things hadn't gone the way she wanted: a year into a pandemic that kept us separated from family and friends, another celebration through a screen. I wanted us to be real — to acknowledge that this year has felt like exile and captivity.
In the middle of these feelings, I've felt more empathy towards the ancient, exiled Israelites than ever before. I've come to understand in a different way the feelings of loneliness and desperation that come with being so far away from the people we love, the places that bring comfort, and even more, the visions we have for our lives. I've been told that deliverance is coming, but it seems slow.
And that is where renewal begins. Renewal: the state of resuming an activity after interruption. Renewal: the beginning again, producing again, starting again. In order for us to renew, to look forward to a good thing, I've realized that it has to start with acknowledging an interruption. We cannot have renewal without first reviewing what is stopped.
This review process can be murky waters. It involves recognizing that we aren't fully achieving success — a difficult moment for anyone. It means pausing and taking stock of where we wanted to be as compared to where we are. It involves asking ourselves difficult questions: What has been interrupted this year? Why did the interruption happen? Was it in my control? There's a temptation in the review to get mired down by what could have been. I've sometimes felt shame or guilt when I had a hand in my interrupted moments. I've struggled with anger or bitterness when I saw that my dreams were interrupted because of someone else's choices.
But renewal can't happen unless we complete the review process. Isaiah 43:18 admonishes us to "forget the former things." If we "dwell on the past," even the parts of the past that were positive, we lose the opportunity to look forward to what God is doing.
That's why one of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 43:19: "For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."
Renewal is moving on from the point of interruption and developing a new vision. The beauty of a season of renewal is that it never looks quite like the original plan or vision. Ask any gardener — there may be one plan developed over the winter, but spring brings its own surprises as growth happens.
The promise of Isaiah 43:19 is that our times of renewal will involve new things that seem unlikely to us when we are stuck in a period of interruption. It will bring miracles to our wildernesses and dry wastelands.
Perhaps you feel stuck in a wilderness place. Have you ever been on a hike and lost track of the beaten path? I have, and it was terrifying to think that I was going in the wrong direction or taking a route that no one else had used. But I had to choose to either move forward and trust that I was moving in the right direction or stay still and hope someone would find me. Moving forward was hard, but then I came upon a path. It definitely wasn't the popular road, but I could tell someone had been there. That was one of the most relieving moments of my life! Trust God when you are in a season of renewal that you will be shown a path through the wild places. That path may look very different from anything you considered before your plans were interrupted, but you can trust that someone has gone before you and you are not alone.
Maybe you are in that dry wasteland feeling emotionally, mentally, or spiritually drained. Your period of interruption has you worn down and close to giving up. It's like being dehydrated — you are tired, dizzy, dry, and feeling thirsty. You are looking for anything that will bring relief. I can't be the only one that has felt emotional and mental dehydration after a year of quarantine and restriction. The hope of coming back together with loved ones has been like a drink of cool water on the hottest days. What a promise to be given rivers in a place that is dry! Turn to the Living Water, and you will find relief.
As we look forward to times of renewal, I hope that we will embrace the full process. Let's take the time to look at where we were, the hopes and plans we had, but I pray that we will not dwell in those things. Instead, may we see with eager anticipation the new thing that God is doing.