When my second son began preschool, an experience relished by his five brothers, his reaction was less than enthusiastic. As we approached the brightly painted door that led to his classroom, I felt myself being pulled backward by the pressure of his tiny hand tugging on mine.
Looking down I saw the big brown eyes welling up with tears, a look of fear crossing his flushed face. A kindly, gray-haired lady came out and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, ushering him in to join the other children. As he turned to look at me with wide doe-eyes, I was sure the lump in my throat would choke me. I waited for the inevitable with bated breath.
“MOMEEE!” came the blood-curdling scream. It wasn’t so much the word as the impassioned, gut-wrenching way in which it was delivered that pierced my guilty-mother heart as I tore myself away, leaving him there in the obviously adequate care of his new teacher.
New beginnings were not his cup of tea.
And so it is for many of us, even as adults. New beginnings, while often exciting and challenging, also signify endings. With each new beginning we are called to give up the security and comfortableness of old ways to move forward into the unknown. Even routine, boring or painful daily experiences may be difficult to relinquish because they have become an anchor holding us in place.
New beginnings require a trust in the Lord and acknowledgement that he is the author of both beginnings and endings. Moving forward is sure to be difficult without the hand of the Lord to lead us.
Talking to a young man who wished to follow Jesus, but only after he had returned home to say good-bye to his family, Jesus explained the importance of letting go of the past: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was not saying, as many believe, that the past is something that should be forgotten or ignored, but rather, that when the time comes for a decision to be made for the future, the past must take its place as the port from which one sails.
To continue to look back may prevent us from making what one Bible commentary refers to as an “instant decision of purpose” – the kind we must make when God calls us to something new and, often, something frightening.
My experience with decisions of “purpose” has taught me a lesson I try hard to remember—when the challenges of any new beginning bring cries for help, recall the words of Jesus as he rebuked the storm, saying, “Quiet! Be still!” and his remonstration of the Apostles, of whom he asked, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
I want to answer assuredly, “You know I do!” But sometimes, my behavior belies my shaky faith, and I wonder, almost hopefully, if Noah’s first response to God – not recorded in Scripture – might have been along the lines of a muffled, “Seriously?”
I would feel so much better knowing someone who navigated so well the stormy sea of change through faith in God, also had his moments of doubt.
And so, as I once again set out on a new journey with a host of others filling the ship, I am moving my large painting of Noah’s ark from my grandchildren’s bedroom to my new office so I can be reminded of Noah’s fortitude when waters got rough and his faith in God’s promise that they would, eventually, arrive on dry land where their work would be fruitful.
I am also bringing an umbrella and rain boots.
Mary Morrell is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Spirit, the Diocese of Metuchen’s Catholic publication.