There is one holiday ritual I really hate: taking down the tree. It’s a sad job, as it marks the end of the season. It’s also messy. Dragging out a month-old, dried-up balsam means getting sticky needles everywhere. Most of all, it leaves the house with this big empty hole in the corner of the living room. What was there before the tree? I can’t even remember.
But I took it down. And here I sit, feeling sad, staring at a bare spot in the living room and a house strewn with needles.
I really need to get over this annual trauma. January is supposed to be the month of moving on, cleaning out and lightening up, right? Perhaps if I thought of taking down the tree as a New Year’s resolution exercise, it would be easier.
New Year’s invites us to think of things like my tree — the old, dried-up parts of our lives that need clearing out. Maybe we need to release a grudge, a lingering sense of self-doubt, or even a dream that has died. Whatever it is, just like taking down the tree, letting go can bring a renewed sense of possibility and freedom.
For example, the hole in the corner of my living room can now accommodate a floor lamp to light the room, or a plant to bring life and energy to the house. What things in your life are past their time? What things are taking up room without bringing light or life?
Of course, even if we know what needs to go, we may avoid clearing it out because letting go can leave a hole we’re not sure how to fill. If we let go of anger, for example, what goes in its place? If we aren’t mad, then who are we? If we forgive, does that mean the deed goes unpunished?
We may also avoid clearing out an old Christmas tree because it can be messy. When you leave the tree up too long, needles begin to fall everywhere. Worse, they end up in strange places you didn’t expect — like the needles I found in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator last May. In the same way, when we let a painful or difficult issue sit too long, the “needles” or fallout from that issue can find their way into strange places, like anger or tears at unexpected times. Best to deal with the issue now.
The new year is an opportune time to revisit our priorities and sense of purpose. What blessings and good things do you want to invite into your life now that you’ve made room? How about forgiveness? By letting go, you’re not condoning the act, only releasing the heavy burden of bitterness. Or how about welcoming peace into your life? If you let go of worry by trusting in a higher power you can put your heart at rest.
Miraculous things can happen when we make room. As the book of Isaiah teaches, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 42:18-19.
Hard as it was, I guess I’m glad I took down the tree. Sure, I have a lot of needles to sweep and furniture to rearrange, but hey, if I didn’t take down the old dried-up tree, then where would I find room for the new tree — and the new joy — next Christmas?
Happy New Year’s cleaning to you all!
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.