Words to Start the Year: The Trite and the True

Yesterday and today I have been bombarded with New Year messages.
There were the sickly sweet…
The inspirational…
The religious…
And the funny.

I passed a couple of them on and added my own cheery New Year’s Eve celebration pictures and wishes onto Instagram , Facebook and Twitter.

But if I’m completely honest, the common words in these messages—prosperous, successful, joyful, bright, healthy, peaceful, blessed—have felt rather trite this year. Sure, they tumble off my own lips with as much ease as everyone else’s but even as I passed them on, a little nay-saying voice in my head whispered, “If 2017 was so tough, why will 2018 be any better?”

2017 was the year my family was rocked with a diagnosis of cancer. It was the year we drove to hospitals for visits in isolation wards and sat watching the drip-drip-drip of life-saving poison going through veins. It was the year we were reminded of fragility—both of body and of mind—and our helpless, frustrated tears only punctuated the point.

We watched the struggle of friends. Relationships crumbled, finances failed, lives were touched by crime and violence and tragedy. So it was that I came to the end of 2017 feeling particularly weary. And that soul-deep weariness hit me the hardest in an area particularly dear to me, one that’s a very large part of my identity and purpose—my writing.

That same negative nay-saying voice has been having a field day these last months. You’re wasting your time, it whispers. Your words and books don’t make a difference to anyone. Nobody would even notice if you stopped.

And it has had an impact. I haven’t written any blog posts or devotionals recently. My latest novel—oh, how that voice loves berating fiction (said in a most condescending tone)—lies untouched. My mind is beset with doubts regarding plot and character and world-building. You’ve lost your ability…in fact you probably never had it at all, my inner cohort jeers.


This morning I made my way to the quiet of my garden, where I found somebody who particularly likes garden meetings*. And it was His voice that finally quieted the nay-sayer.

I’ve always been a little envious of people who get a word or a verse for the year, but this first day of 2018 He might just have imparted mine under the rustling Tipuana tree:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)

Here are some things I learned this morning in my garden:

  • We are not alone. Besides Jesus—our garden-dwelling champion—we also have a huge crowd of companions on this journey called life. We needn’t face life’s trials alone.
  • We all get entangled sometimes, be it by the heavy burdens in life or by our sin. I can see now that one of the most entangling elements last year was my prideful desire for approval and acclaim. When that didn’t come, I began to listen (and believe) the lying voice telling me I was running the race for nothing.
  • God sets out the race before each of us and we have to keep running it with endurance. We don’t have to understand why we run or exactly where we’re going or who our race will impact. Writing is a part of my race – I know this because of how alive and joyful I feel when I write. Your race will look very, very different to mine but it’s yours and all you have to do is run it as faithfully as you can.
  • We’ll only get to the finish line if we keep our eyes on Jesus. In my case, not my readers. Not my fellow writers. Not reviewers. Not even church leaders or bible study teachers. We must watch Jesus alone.

Today I cut away some of those vines that had entangled me and dragged me to a halt. I took a tenuous step forward and wrote a blog post. Tomorrow I’ll probably need to cut away some more of the undergrowth trying to trip me up. I might need to go slow for a while until I get the feel of the road again. But I will keep moving forward. Little by little. Step by tiny step. All the while looking into eyes that bid me follow him and that shine with the only affirmation I truly need.

*Our Garden-dwelling God: See Genesis 3:8 and John 20:14 and Matthew 26:36

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  1. Exactly the encouragement I need to go forward into 2018, facing my own entangling vines and, with our Lord’s help, cutting them away so that I can walk forward more confidently. I also need, like you, to take one tiny step at a time, and not be daunted by my long list of entrapping items. Thank you, Joan, for taking that tiny step to write this Blog; it is what I needed to read today.

    • Thank you dear Roma. I love how we can all draw alongside each other, even as we run our own races – praying for you. xx

  2. Many thanks for making the effort to continue writing your blog.
    There is much inspiration for all of us there-in.
    Happy New Year!

  3. I can only second what Roma has said. Thank you Joan for the inspiration and encouragement 🤗

  4. This is also what I needed to hear. Thank you Joan for being so honest and sharing so beautifully. May you continue to spread the fragrance of His love xxx

  5. Dear heart, thank you for sharing this. I feel so much the same and have learnt today from you, that my eyes should only be on Jesus!

  6. You use words beautifully and powerfully Joan. I love your straight forwardness and honesty and identify with what you’ve expressed so well. May God walk with you and your family through 2018 and be your strength in the trials, delight you in his special revelations…and continue to give you inspiration to write. God bless

  7. My very special love and life partner – thank you for the words you share with me and others. This is a blessing to be reminded that it’s all about Jesus.

  8. Marina Reyneke

    Really touched by your blog. Untangling, refocusing and getting back into alignment with God’s plans and purposes is challenging. Holding firmly to God and lightly to my plans.

  9. Frank van Doorene

    Thanks for your message Joan ….. you say it so beautifully. I can relate because I also battle so with the negativity, but He’s given me a verse/song that I can answer with ……..”In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Christ who loves us so. For neither height nor depth, nor life nor death nor anything we know. Neither angels nor authorities, things now or those to come….. can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ His Son”.
    Pursue your gift and bless us all as you have done in the past.

  10. Thank-you for being real, dear Joan, it can require courage, but it is a gift of trust and love to those who care – because it helps us to be real too. Oh how we need that. Bless you.

  11. Nicole Campbell

    This is such a great reminder for us at the beginning of the year. I especially like the idea that I need to run the race step by step and God is with me in the next step.

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