In my native Dutch language we either wish people a “happy” or a “blessed” new year. Many of my compatriots may not be aware of the origin of this difference: Those with a Protestant heritage prefer to use the term “happy”, while people with a Roman Catholic background tend to opt for “blessed.” I wished my language had a word that blends these two concepts: human happiness and divine blessing.
During the last week of the year countless good wishes are exchanged. They come in oral form as we meet people while maintaining the required social distance, or through snail mail, e-mail and the various social media, and as we Skype, Zoom, Facetime or use other techniques to get in touch with one another. Has all this new-year-wishing become a rather empty tradition? Or is it a meaningful interaction that we must not lose. I, for one, attach real significance to it. In my last blog of the year I want to briefly share what a happy and blessed New Year means for me:
1.It is easy to take for granted that I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and my “daily bread” on the table. However, just a few days ago I watched a TV-program about the dozens of homeless people in a town near where we live. Men and women told their sad story. In many cases, through no direct fault of their own, they no longer had a roof over their head, nor enough income to buy food. I realized that it would be impossible for me to feel happy and blessed without having these basic necessities of life.
2.Good heath is a blessing and a close pendant of happiness. Most of us sense this in the present Covid-19 crisis more keenly than ever before. But for me personally this has, in particular, been brought home to me by a constant stream of bad news from family and friends, and many others whom we know well, about cancers that have just been diagnosed, brain tumors that have been detected, and various serious chronic diseases and addictions, apart from broken hips and other disabilities. As I see, and feel, advanced age slowly creeping up on me, my daily dose of pills has gone up and doctors’ visits have become more frequent. To remain reasonably healthy in 2021 would certainly be a precious blessing and a source of happiness.
3.Two bloody world wars put their stamp on the twentieth century. Last year in different places in Europe it was celebrated how World War II ended 75 years ago. International organizations, as the UN, NATO and the European Union, may have their weaknesses, but they have done much to ensure peace, at least in the part of the world where I live. Elsewhere in the world wars continue to destroy the lives of millions. Reports of violence in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, various places in Africa, etc., remind me how peace is a prerequisite for a happy and blessed existence.
4.Just a week ago my wife Aafje and I celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary (because of Covid in a much more restrained manner than in previous years). As 2021 begins we have just started our 57th year of life together. We got married in our early twenties–so you can do the arithmetic. Our happiness will be closely linked to the blessing of remaining together for, hopefully, many years to come. Each time when we celebrate that we have been happily married for another year, we are reminded that many of our relatives and friends have experienced how their partner was taken away from them and how difficult it is for them to rebuild their lives with a certain degree of happiness. A happy and blessed new year is a year together with the one who is our life’s companion.
5.A happy new year will be a year in which we can enjoy the love nd companionship of family and friends. It is something that becomes more meaningful as the years go by. And as time passes it becomes more urgent to do all we can to restore relationships that have become strained or disrupted. It will give added happiness when such efforts are successful.
6.Financial security is definitely also an important aspect of happiness. It may feel as something we have earned through hard work, without always sufficiently realizing how much this is due to divine blessings. As 2021 begins I trust the monthly pension payments from state and church will keep coming. I sincerely hope I will not face any dramatic unexpected expenses, and that we will also be able and willing to share some of what we have with others. Sometimes I dream of a sudden windfall—enabling me to go with my wife on a cruise to the Arctic waters, or to put a serious amount of money in the bank accounts of our children—but a sense of gratitude for all that we have, and the comfortable way we can live, soon overrules those fantasies.
7.Being retired has many advantages. One is that you have much more freedom than before n choosing what projects to work on. For me living a happy and fulfilled life does not equal an end to all projects. I get a great deal of satisfaction from preaching and lecturing, and from writing. 2020 put severe restrictions in what I could do. Most appointments were either cancelled, postponed or transferred to Zoom. Happiness in 2021 would include the disappearance of the Covid-restrictions and a return to a “normal” active-retirement-kind-of-existence.
8.Many people are perfectly happy if they never travel outside of a 50-mile radius from their home. I have never belonged to that tribe. I thoroughly enjoy traveling, seeing new places and revisiting places that hold pleasant memories. Apart from an aborted trip to Southern California in February of this past year, we used a temporary lull in the Covid-restrictions for a ten-day trip to Denmark. That was all our foreign travel in 2020! It would increase our happiness if we could soon resume our travel, and go see our grandchildren in Sweden, pay another visit to the USA, visit family in Canada and friends in Australia, and, of course, take some long-planned trips to places in Europe.
9.An important aspect of a happy and blessed life is enjoyment of culture. One concert, with an audience of just thirty people, a few weeks ago, was the only live-concert we were able to go to in 2020. We wonder what 2021 will bring us in terms of museum visits and concerts. Will our path cross again with Herbert Blomstedt as he conducts one of his annual concerts in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw? Of course, there are lots of other ways of enjoying beautiful music and, whatever happens with Covid-19—I will have books! (And Amazon now also has a branch in the Netherlands!)
10.Finally, 2021 can become a truly blessed year only if I continue my pilgrimage of faith—ever finding new depth and inspiration, as, following in the footsteps of the eleventh-century St. Anselm of Canterbury, my “faith seeks further understanding,” helps me to find inner strength when facing the challenges that will undoubtedly also come in the new year, and allows me to support other fellow-travelers along the road of life. Moreover, it would greatly enhance my happiness if I would see my local and global Adventist faith community “grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and enact some of the changes which I—together with many others—have long been hoping for.
This is what a happy and blessed new year means for me. I wish you the same happiness and divine blessing as you transfer and adapt these words to your own life situation at the beginning of 2021.