A few years ago I traveled to Virginia to visit friends and see a few sites. On one of our road trips I made the drive from historic Williamsburg, Virginia to Charlottesville. It is only a couple of hours drive between the two towns across Interstate 64. But on this trip it was late at night, I was tired, it was raining pitchforks, and I was behind the wheel of an unfamiliar mini-van. Plus, I had a tummy full of scrambled eggs and pancakes dulling my senses even more.
So to steel my nerves and empower my driving abilities, I ordered a large cup of coffee to go from the nice waitress who had been serving our table at a nationally recognized breakfast restaurant that shall remain nameless. The name of this restaurant rhymes with “sock-hop,” however, and I will leave the deduction to you.
Thirty minutes later, somewhere in the driving rain outside ofRichmond, and near the bottom of my Styrofoam cup, my coffee began taking on a pronounced stronger, grittier taste. I kept thinking, “Wow, this will keep me awake; they must have brewed this stuff without a filter – I’m practically chewing the coffee grounds.” How I wish that was what I was drinking. On my last gulp of coffee I took into my mouth what was giving my drink such a gravelly texture: A burned-out cigarette butt. I know central Virginia is still owned lock-stock-and-barrel by big tobacco, and I saw plenty of their product along the way, but finding it at the bottom of my coffee cup was a bit more than I wished to discover.
My coffee calamity is a good example of how this past year has been for many of us. Here we are, at the end of a year and the beginning of another – the bottom of the cup – and it is a bitter mouthful. Economics, sickness, death, foreclosure, unwanted and undesired transitions with family, relationships, and jobs – these made 2012 hard to swallow. We are left to stare at the sludge that is left, spit it from our mouth and say, “What now?” It is enough to make you dread the turning of the calendar for another year. But dread it or not, the page is turning and another year is upon us.
Guess what I did after choking down someone’s burnt out Marlboro? Well, after the expected gagging, swearing, letter-writing, and spitting, I poured myself another cup of coffee. One cup of bad coffee wasn’t enough to make me swear off the stuff, not even for a day. I was drinking coffee again right away. I kept pouring it out of the pot (though with careful inspection) and into my body, because cigarette butts or not, I need it.
And really, one bad year shouldn’t stop us from living either. We should pick up the cup and drink again, because we can enter this New Year with a renewed optimism, with a confidence we may have forgotten, and a restored dependence on the Christ we follow. We may gag and spit in the process, but we can get on with it again.
The Apostle Peter, one who endured his fair share of hard years and bitter cups, once wrote to his friends: “God is so good! By raising Jesus from the dead, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.”
I am not one who advocates a pie-in-the-sky kind of spirituality as if this world doesn’t really matter. I believe this life does matter, even the painful parts of it. But I also believe that this life is not the totality of our existence. Somehow, someway, somewhere beyond this suffering present tense, God will renew our lives and redeem our pain. So my friends, I pray you find the courage to spit out the past and pour yourself another cup; a cup filled with the divine hope that echoes from a distant but very real future.