There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to keep and a time to throw away. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6)
It seems to me that times of transition have a lot to teach us if we are willing to listen. They are times when we are leaving the old and familiar behind in some way, shape, or form, and moving out into the new and unknown…whatever that may be. They are times of great possibility because they are times when we tend to be a little more open and vulnerable than usual—a little less secure, a little less sure of ourselves. They are times, it would seem, that are ideal for God to really get his hands on us.
It is during such times that we are likely to stop and reflect on the content and direction of our lives; looking back to see the people, and events, and things that have formed us up to that point. And looking ahead as we dream about, and consider, and hope for what we most want our lives to be. It is in this fruitful space (liminal space as Richard Rohr calls it) that the words of Ecclesiastes offer us a great guide. They ask us to consider what must we keep, of all that has been part of our lives up to that point, and what must we throw away?
I have only to look back to the summer to find a classic example of this; as I said good bye to my job with Young Life and began the process of weeding through 9 years of “stuff” that had accumulated in my office and on my computer. Literally, with every item I held in my hands I was faced with the decision, should I keep this or should I throw it away? It was almost as if as I held each item—and as each item held me—that each contained not only a wonderful memory, but also a question…and a prayer. I quickly realized (with the help of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church) that this process was bigger and more symbolic than each little item I held in my hands. It was a point of deciding who God wanted me to be from this point forward—what I would keep—and what, of a wonderful past, needed to be deeply valued for what it was, but left behind—what I would throw away.
The New Year invites us all to consider this question for ourselves. As we look to the year ahead, what do we keep and what do we throw away…because there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.