"All beginnings are hard.
"I can remember hearing my mother murmur those words while I lay in bed with fever. “children are often sick, darling. That’s the way it is with children. All beginnings are hard. You’ll be all right soon.”
"I remember bursting into tears one evening because a passage of Bible commentary had proved too difficult for me to understand. I was about nine years old at the time. “You want to understand everything immediately?” my father said. “Just like that? You only began to study this commentary last week. All beginnings are hard. You have to work at the job of studying. Go over it again and again.”
"The man who later guided me in my studies would welcome me warmly into his apartment and, when we sat at his desk, say to me in his gentle voice, “Be patient, David. The midrash says, ‘All beginnings are hard.’ You cannot swallow all the world at one time.”
"I say it to myself today when I stand before a new class at the beginning of a school year or am about to start a new book or research paper: All beginnings are hard. Teaching the way I do is particularly hard, for I touch the raw nerves of faith, the beginnings of things. Often students are shaken. I say to them what was said to me: “Be patient. You are learning a new way of understanding the Bible. All beginnings are hard.” And sometimes I add what I have learned on my own: 'Especially a beginning that you make by yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.'"
Those are the opening few paragraphs from Chaim Potok’s book In the Beginning. I have read those words for myself at the beginning of every single school year for the past thirty-three years and have almost as often shared them with my students. I read them—and sometimes share them—because they acknowledge the feelings that most of us go through at the beginning of something important, and because they give me some sort of encouragement by telling me that I’m not alone, and that we survive our beginnings.
Beginnings. They are always difficult. Even for those of us who are now adults and have been “doing” beginnings for a long time. No matter how experienced we are in them. No matter how successful our track record is with them. No matter how dedicated and reliable and responsible and organized we are, there is always the potential of failure when we make a new beginning. And if we’re not careful, fear and pessimism and negativity can take over and destroy what could be a wonderful and rewarding experience.
Beginnings. A brand new start. A chance to wipe away the past and build a better future. Beginnings. An opportunity to take the best of what we were and add it to the best of what we are in order to become the best of what we can be. Beginnings. Even before I begin classes each year, I feel a little nervous. I’ve been through so much already just to get to that day. This year, for example, we had a LOT of changes in staff over the summer, including principal, vice principal and our entire way of operating. We had a lot of new students, which was exciting, but it would also mean a lot more work. We had a lot of physical changes to the campus as well. I was exhausted before we even began. Maybe even a little bit scared because we were stepping off the usual plan for doing things and trying something entirely different. I know for our students, there were many changes and even those who had been coming to school here for three years found themselves out of their comfort zone. For some it was tempting to give up, curl up, close up, shut up…maybe even fold up. Believe me. I know. I saw it in their eyes, read it in their journals. It was tough.
But there is one thing I know. Each beginning, above all others, has the potential to be the start of something great. I saw it at the beginning of this school year. And I feel it again at the beginning of this new year. We were at the beginning of something that can change the lives of each of us here on earth. I can’t pretend to know just where each of you is in your thinking about this year, but I know Someone who does know. Someone who knows more about difficult beginnings than any single one of us—or all us put together. Someone who can get us through this beginning. Someone who knows the truth of of Potok’s opening line: All beginnings are hard. Listen:
"When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass. It took Him awhile to get that mass organized and beautified. But He did it. And He was pleased.
"Then He did something even harder. He made human beings and set them loose on the earth. I can imagine nothing harder than that, because He knew exactly what we were going to do. He knew that we were going to destroy His world, His animals, His people—His Son. He knew, yet He went ahead and made us anyway."
In the beginning, God—
Have you ever wondered why? I have. Countless times. Especially now that I am older. That beginning—creating this world—sometimes seems so senseless to me. Why would God do something He knew beforehand was destined for failure? It doesn’t seem to me that this God—my God—had been in control of that decision. When I was younger and thought about this, I didn’t find much comfort—and I worried, some, for my own future—until I discovered a text I’ve come to cherish in Jeremiah 29:11. It says there, in God’s voice, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And reading that, I realized that my future was in safe hands—as long as I put it there in the beginning and let God work out His plan for me.
All beginnings are hard. But the beauty of this beginning is that God not only made us, He stayed on with us. He did not set the world in motion, then step back and watch it self-destruct. And He did not put Edgewood and GBA together just to watch us fall apart. He was, and is, right there—right here—with us. Through all that we do—our hurts and our joys. Our beginnings, middles, and endings. He has a plan for us. For each of us. I truly believe that.
There’s a wonderful passage in M.L. Haskins’ book, The Desert, that I love. It goes like this: "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.’”
I’d like to recommend this morning that you reach out and put your hand in God’s. We’re on the verge of a beginning that may well be one of our hardest, if not the hardest. There are going to be times when we’ll feel lonely and frightened, disillusioned and helpless. But God—your God—who was there at every other beginning—will be there with us, with each of us, ready to help us up and out—and on. Let Him do what He knows best. Let Him be close to you at this beginning. Trust Him. He knows. Because In the beginning . . . God . . .