Happy New Year and a St Sebastian’s Parish welcome to 2024.
I hope you were able to have some special family time during the Christmas Holiday season of 2023, only a week or so ago.
A favourite New Year quote of mine by Joel Osteen is “to reach up for the new, we must let go of the old. What lies behind us is not nearly as important as what lies in front of us”. What opportunities are before us? Are we still struggling to produce a few examples? If so, not to worry. We are not the only ones struggling to make sense of 2023, the old, in order to determine what lies ahead of us for 2024, the new.
Why the difficulty? This could involve stepping back in aspects of our behaviours, habits, worries and thoughts to move forward with confidence and a brighter future. I hear the question being asked: “How can I identify these changes in order to move forward with confidence?”
Might I suggest that an ounce of self-reflection becomes the beginning of our journey towards a better future. Self-reflection is defined as a mental process to grow our understanding of who we are, what our values are, and why we think, feel, and act the way we do. When we self-reflect and become more conscious of what drives us, we can more easily make changes that help us develop and improve our lives. In the words of David Jeremiah, “It’s time to begin righting the story of your life”. We are all “works in progress” but that doesn’t stop the Good Lord seeing what we can be (not what we are) and begin the steps of change to attain that. Words beautifully captured by the Harrison Ridge Bluegrass Band when they penned the following Christian lyrics: “The things I used to do, I don’t do no more. Oh, what a change in me!”.
The bible reading from the first chapter of 2nd Corinthians cites: “God is the source of comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. Then (we) can patiently endure the same things we suffer”.
2023 could have been a successful year for us, where all of our achievements were met. If so, that is great news! The alternative reality for some of us might have been of a difficult year with bereavement, illness, challenging circumstances, financial issues and relationships. Some of our residents believe that when God comforts us, our troubles fade away. But, if that were so, people would only turn to God out of a desire to be relieved of their pain rather than love for him. We must understand that being “comforted” can also mean receiving strength, encouragement, and hope to deal with our troubles. The more we suffer, the more comfort God gives us. We in turn be the shop window of our faith to comfort others around us in as many creative ways possible (and use words if necessary).
As a Christian community at St Sebastian’s and elsewhere, we journey together. We recognise our accomplishments and celebrate as a community. We do. We also share each other’s pain knowing that by journeying together, we might just bring elements of difference and comfort for our Parish community, particularly, our residents bearing their pain alone.
If you are feeling overwhelmed after self-reflection, please allow God to comfort you with the following Church of England prayer: “Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy during this month of uncertainty and distress. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful around us and lift up all who are brought low. This is so that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen”.
Following this prayer, let us start 2024 with thankfulness and hope.
Let us be thankful for the gift of each new day, the gift of faith and trust, the gift of our family, the gift of friendship, the gift of our health, the gift of an accident-free journey, the gift of our community, key workers and emergency services, the gift of food and other support from Wokingham Borough Council and the gift of a new year, 2024.
Saint Ambrose said, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks”.
Happy New Year with love.
Reverend Rickey Simpson-Gray
Parish of Wokingham St Sebastian’s