‘Happy’ New Year??

December 30, 2023

‘Happy New Year’ may sound trite with daily reports of violence and injustice in Ukraine and Gaza filling our screens. 

Yet happiness is a fruit of gratitude, not circumstances. This year I have often been encouraged by our YWAM Ukraine sisters and brothers who continue to express gratefulness for God’s blessings even while under constant bombardment and discomfort.

Ira Kapitonova, for example, recently wrote from Kyiv after yet another drone attack: 

We are sleeping in our hallway. We heard several explosions, and there are reports of drone fragments hitting an apartment building. I know it sounds horrible, yet even despite these attacks, it feels good to be home. 

Four months ago, I wasn’t sure what life back in Kyiv would be like, but now I know that little can compare to being at home. Even though we spent the first 18 months of this full-scale war at my grandma’s, it still wasn’t really our home, and we never knew what would trigger the unbearable wave of homesickness. It could be a dish we used to make, a picture on my phone, or a significant day we had to miss.

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me where our joy comes from now, when we are nearing the end of the second year of the full-scale invasion.

We learn to live day by day, dealing with challenges step by step, learning to be grateful in the moment. We wake up, and we are thankful there were no explosions at night and we are well-rested. We get ready to go to school, and we are grateful to be able to travel safely through the city. At school, the children often pray and thank God that they don’t need to go to the basement (our bomb shelter). We come home, and we appreciate the chance to be together as a family because the war has separated many families.

We learn to find joy in daily struggles. An air raid might have prevented us from going out, but we could have family time in our hallway (the safe part of our apartment). A snowstorm might have paralyzed the city, but it meant the indescribable joy of playing in the snow for the kids, so we would seize this opportunity just to let them have fun. We are still worried about possible blackouts and try to prepare for those, but even as we stock up on candles and flashlights, we bought some battery-powered Christmas lights to bring joy into the darkest of nights.

I wish our days were more predictable, but I also feel like God tells me every morning, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Tonight, I pray for all to be able to experience the joy of God’s love and grace — whether it is in the heavily shelled trenches or in the warmth and safety of their homes. God offers us His joy despite circumstances, yet it is up to us to receive it.

Overflow with thankfulness

Gratitude makes us happier, studies have shown. The Harvard Medical School published an article about research affirming that gratitude was strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helped people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships, it said. 

Derived from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible. We acknowledge that the source of goodness in our lives lies at least partially outside ourselves: other people, nature, and ultimately God. 

The Bible of course has always taught that God wants us to overflow with thankfulness. The Psalmists exhort us to ‘Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits’, (Ps. 103:2); to  ‘Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; For His mercy is everlasting’ (Ps.106:1); and to ‘Sing to the LORD with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.’ (Ps.147:7). 

The exhortations continue in the New Testament: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’, Paul instructs the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:18). And from James: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2,3).

As we think back over the past year and look forward to the new, let’s follow the exhortation of the old Sunday School chorus:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

This then is how we can have a happy New Year. 

Till next week,

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