The Gate of the Year: Treading Safely into the Unknown
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
– From the poem “God Knows” by Minnie Louise Haskins, 1908
I have read the above poem by Minnie Haskins before, and always found it to be sweet. I hadn’t thought about it in quite some time but I happened upon it again yesterday. This time, rather than simply receiving a warm fuzzy, it became utterly relatable and touched me to my very soul.
As I stood at the gate of the year 2016, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I had a wonderful plan and that plan definitely would not have placed me where I am right this moment in early June. As those plans began to shift and bend and groan under the weight of so many unexpected twists and turns, the vision I had for where I wanted to be had to be shifted down the road. There were certainly moments where I felt like a traveler in the dark, hoisting her lamp to illuminate the unknown, trying to see where she was going and being met with various obstacles that continued to spring out of the shadowed areas just beyond my lantern’s reach.
Navigating the unknown can be scary. In my case, what was “unknown” had to do with human frailty and unpredictable flesh. In essence, my father’s health crisis, which exponentially became more and more dire, was the lynchpin upon which my “plans” had to constantly be adjusted. His ever accelerating decline came with dramatic curveballs that lunged at me like monsters who’d been hiding in the darkness.
At some point along the journey, I came very close to bypassing the issue of family altogether, thinking instead that perhaps the best remedy to avoiding the pitfalls of my present predicament would be to stick to my original plan… the one I’d formulated at the gate of the year, which would have allowed me to sidestep the heartache and agony and uncertainty of attending to my father’s needs, instead following my own lantern directly to the finish line. Despite the Holy Spirit’s gentle but persistent nudges that I had family business to attend to FIRST… I considered that maybe I could just shimmy past all of that and be my own guide, following my own light. In Biblical terms, we could call this leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
When one is in Christ, leaning on one’s own understanding (as we all do from time to time) generally comes with a academic advising dissertationsmoment of mega conviction. That is what happened to me. I was convicted HARD for trying to collect my prize before I’d finished the race. I had to repent of that selfishness and was again faced with the dilemma of how to navigate this shadowy and uncertain path into the relative unknown. This time, I decided to listen to the Lord and be obedient to Him. I laid down my lantern and placed my hand in His, trusting that He would lead me through this maze. And He has been faithful to do so.
Remarkably, with God as my guide, the finish line of my original plan is exactly the same. The prize hasn’t gone away. In fact, trusting in the Lord’s leading and His timing has only resulted in an increase to the beauty and the blessing of that prize. Truly, what God has illuminated is that this was not really ever my plan at all. He set everything into motion, He designed the blessed destination, and all I had to do to get there was be patient and allow Him to lead.
My grandmother used to have this phrase she would use when she was feeling worn out from worry or stress. She’d say “I feel like the wreck of the Hesperus!” As a kid I had no idea what that meant but I loved the sound of it (even in my youth I was a logophile), and assimilated it into my own vernacular. Years later, I investigated the meaning of this phrase and came upon the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longellow, “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” It is a poem about a ship and it is a poem about a girl. In the poem, a ship’s captain brings his daughter aboard to join him on a winter journey. He is warned that he might be sailing directly into a hurricane, but his pride prevents him from turning around. When the warning of stormy weather comes to fruition, the captain ties his daughter to the mast of the ship to prevent her from being thrown overboard. Eventually, all of the ship’s crew succumb to the forces of the stormy sea, and without anyone to steer the ship, it lunges toward the rocky shore, where the captain’s daughter meets a cruel fate, being hurled along with the ship against the rocks. The next morning, horrified fisherman come upon the shipwreck, and the remains of the girl still tied to the mast.
Realizing that my sweet grandma’s seemingly quaint euphemism was actually a morbid reference to a horrific tragedy was somewhat jarring. With that said, it has come to be analogous to me about the dangers of pridefully trying to steer one’s own ship without relying on the Lord. If we truly trust the Lord, He will not only be the wind in our sails, but He will also serve as the rudder for our ship… simultaneously moving us forward and steering us toward our destination. To some this may sound naive, but I truly believe that when we trust in God completely, He is faithful to take the helm and direct us even through the most treacherous of waters.
As the beautiful words of Minnie Haskins admonish the reader, the safest way to venture into the unknown is to put your hand into the hand of God, and let Him guide your way.