The first time I heard “Every New Day” was at a church youth group in junior high.
It was the kind of church where the teenagers met in a basement room and played foosball before the service started, and they’d put us on teams to play games based on popular TV shows, like challenges where kids would count marshmallows shoved in their mouth without swallowing, or races where teens would drive other teens around town in their parents’ minivan on scavenger hunts. Of course your parents always felt safe dropping you off at a church event, and that’s what made the apparent danger so delightful.
This song came out in 1997, so back then it was still new, and they played it a lot. Over the years, the song came back to me and has become a bit biographical.
When I was young, the smallest trickle of light
Could catch my eye
Then life was new and every new day
I thought that I could fly
I was pretty optimistic as a kid. One morning, as my mom rounded the corner past the park in the truck, driving me to school, I announced: I love life. Why? she asked. There was no reason, no big thing I was looking forward to at school. It was just another day. As a kid, I enjoyed recess but liked classes just as much. I was good at school. I got As, without much effort. Each new day held new promise and you never knew what would happen next.
Bliss to Stress
This was not the case in college. I still got decent grades, still with little effort. But my senior year, when I lived off-campus, I remember waking up in the morning, rolling over, and thinking: God, help. So many mornings, this was my reaction to the new day.
Then I was a Christian, had always been a Christian, and praying was like breathing, a mental habit so familiar that it didn’t necessarily stop or start, it just was. Anne Lamott later formalized this type of prayer in her book “Help, Thanks, Wow” — my morning prayer fell into that first bucket.
There wasn’t anything specific about the day I was dreading. Just classes, perhaps crossing paths with people I knew, needing to be mentally alert and emotionally available. Perhaps it was a stage of growing up, when I was becoming more in tune with the many things that were expected of me, and I began to question whether I was able. Life became a burden.
I believed in what I hoped for
And I hoped for things unseen
I had wings and dreams could soar
I just don’t feel like flying anymore
An evangelical Christian, as the name suggests, is generally supposed to be convincing others to also become Christians (i.e., evangelism). This foundation is what caused me to lose my faith completely on two separate occasions. The process went something like this:
- Realize that telling people being a Christian is better than not being a Christian is intellectually dishonest, since I had never not been a Christian, and couldn’t vouch for it from personal experience
- Notice that non-Christians are kind, moral and optimistic, and wonder if being a Christian is maybe not better than not being a Christian
- Try to stop being a Christian, just to see
- Get depressed
- Rediscover faith
Depression doesn’t always intersect with failure, but for me, the deeper times did intersect with a loss of faith.
Stress to Disillusionment
One of the darker periods took place when I lived in New York. Living and working in New York should feel like flying, right? Despite the success, I felt numb.
There are a couple things that happen in your 20s. First, you start to realize that despite all the charities you’ve donated to or volunteered for, things are still bad, maybe worse. More bad things happen. Natural disasters, terrorism. Meanwhile, on a personal level, you finish college, then finish graduate school, then get a good job, and then you sort of run out of life-defining events to work towards. You finally have that freedom to do anything, and suddenly, you realize choosing where to put your efforts is a burden.
I ran out of things to achieve, things to chase. I was more than not happy. I didn’t want to be happy. So many bad things were happening to so many people, and I couldn’t fix it for them, and it felt inappropriate for me to take action toward my own happiness, when so much sadness exists.
Man versus himself
Man versus machine
Man versus the world
Mankind versus me
The struggles go on
The wisdom I lack
The burdens keep piling
Up on my back
So hard to breathe
To take the next step
The mountain is high
I wait in the depths
Yearning for grace
And hoping for peace
I was low, and scared I wouldn’t make it — I wanted to believe in God again — but, I wasn’t sure that I could find faith again, once it was gone. Then I came back to this song.
Dear Father, I need you
Your strength my heart to mend
I want to fly higher
Every new day again
Believing in God gives me an excuse to believe that all the bad stuff in the world will get fixed. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but somewhere past the end of time, everything will be made right. Unlike the Christianity I was taught in church, this isn’t something I now believe because it can be proved, because it’s reasonable and obvious, or even because it’s believable.
It’s not quite believable, but it’s something hoped for, which is the actual definition of faith.
Disillusionment to Renewal
My belief in God today is different that it was in childhood. But, it helps me get out of bed in the morning.
Here’s my heart, let it be forever yours
Only you can make every new day seem so new
This song captures the unbound optimism of my childhood, and the hope that exists when the world is small. It captures the burden that comes, not with failure, but with loss of hope. Perhaps believing in God makes my world small again. Small, and more attainable. At the very least, it takes me back to the youth group basement with the foosball tables where everything was exciting and safe at the same time.