By Elton D. HiggsThe first few days of a new year invite us to review the recent past, to let go of our baggage, and to pursue self-improvement. However, Jesus gave advice about the danger of trying to embrace the new while holding tenaciously onto the old: “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17).
Both of the poems below deal with how our desire for the “new wine” of positively altered behavior is hindered by either our reluctance to break through the comfort boundaries of the familiar, or our substitution of face-saving guilt feelings for humble reform. Our Adversary has no preference for either of the two, since they are equally effective in preventing the painful process of growth. Happy New Year, folks.
A Reluctance for New Wine
The fabric of threadbare hope
Stretches toward year’s end.
Pieces of frayed ambition extend
To cover the old wineskins
That many disclaim
But few set aside.
Like children clutching tattered dolls,
We hug in vain security
The rags of the past,
Because in some degree
They are accommodated to our wills.
The outworn selves we cling to
Can be our own
The more as time goes by:
We patch and mend
In order to possess.
Stirs something deep within—
But I would not willingly admit it.
–Elton D. Higgs (Dec. 31, 1977)
A Prayer for Exorcism
Lord, spare me from the ghosts
Of work undone;
The year has run its course,
And once again I find
Unfinished what I had designed.
No doubt You hoped for more as well;
But, truth to tell,
I doubt my sense of falling short
Arises from the faults You see.
I prefer those sins whose guilty shades
Are quite definable,
And limit my lament
To my own thwarted ends.
Your design transcends my pride;
I cannot hide beneath the guilt
That comes from You,
For it speaks of new beginnings,
And brooks no misty sentiment
For what I’ve failed to do.
–Elton D. Higgs (12/30/78)
Image: “Growing” by A Tipton. CC license.