2020: Because Where Else Would We Start?
There is a story I have heard a couple of times recently. It involves a large and impressive looking tree growing in a suburban neighbourhood that is toppled in a freak storm. The day after the storm, the nearby residents are shocked to see how small the root system is compared to the size of the tree’s trunk and branches. However, when it is revealed that the tree was located right next to a sprinkler system that kept it well watered and was sheltered from weather by the surrounding buildings, it becomes clear why the root system was underdeveloped.
2020 has been like that storm. Nobody saw it coming and nobody expected it to hit as hard as it has. Relentless is a word that comes to mind. Between a pandemic, political strife, and social unrest, I cannot recall a time where there have been so many significant global events that have impacted so many people in such a profound way.
It is a lot to take.
Many of us have found ourselves flailing as the storm rages on. I remember back in March when things first broke locally with the coronavirus, I was glued to the daily press briefings, reading analysis online, and constantly scrolling through Twitter to see who was making what prediction.
I was taken out and it was only after a few weeks and seeing how other parts of my life were beginning to suffer did I realize how much of an impact I was allowing the news to have on me.
It was all I talked about with anyone, including my family; I was distracted at work and was passing a lot of my anxiety and worry to those I cared about most. Interiorly, my intentionality around prayer and gratitude disappeared.
Where are We Rooted?
As I look back at myself earlier this year, I realize that there were significant parts of me that were not deeply rooted. The assumption of having steady work, being able to watch sports anytime I wanted to, spending time out with friends, even the basic expectation of a stable society had made me complacent. Those parts of me were like the suburban tree, sheltered from the elements and provided with easy access to sustenance, and while externally I may have appeared healthy and well, the hidden parts were underdeveloped or even lazy.
The reason I say parts of me is because there are other parts of me that have discovered the joy and peace from rooting myself deeply in faith and relationship with God. Through the summer, fall, and into the winter of 2020, this relationship has provided security to help me navigate the challenges I am facing. This does not mean life is easy – my experiences through the year have been turbulent and challenging on many levels – but when I am operating from a secure place, I can lean into my faith and hold to it like a immovable boulder while the wind rages. As I grow in faith, I can feel my roots growing deeper into something stable and lasting.
A Man for All Seasons
The Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus demonstrate a man who is truly rooted in His identity as a son of God the Father. He draws strength and wisdom from this relationship, and it provides Jesus with the security to respond to every situation He encountered with the appropriate action. He did not look to friends or the community to provide Him with approval or validation for His work, and did not stop this work out of fear of offending someone or becoming less popular.
This is a man who responded to different situations in different ways: catching the clever with a cutting remark, offering words of kindness to the broken, flipping over tables and chasing merchants out of the temple, and ultimately, offering His life for the sake of others. By taking His lead from the Father, He stayed the course and carried out the mission that He had come to fulfil.
When I look at the way Jesus meets and responds to adversity and compare it to the way I have reacted to the events of 2020, it is safe to say I have a lot of room for personal growth. As I have experienced even a little bit of closer relationship with God, I am encouraged because I have come to know that it is real and it is available.
Practically speaking, I have found that there are some ideas and practices that have been helpful as I have leaned into faith and relationship with God.
First, I try to examine the ‘sprinklers and buildings’ that exist in my own life preventing me from growing in relationship with God. One area I have focused in on is my consumption of news. It struck me recently that vast majority of news I consume has no direct impact on my day to day life, but a huge impact on my mental well being and anxiety levels. Now I try to just get what I need and get out and am feeling much more at peace.
Secondly, I search for forest. Not literally (though I find hiking is great for staying grounded), but by looking for others who are walking the same walk that I aspire to. Like trees, we are meant for community and to support each other in our lives. I have been blessed to encounter many people who have encouraged me and invited me into their journeys, which has helped me immensely in my own.
Finally, I have found that it is important to be patient. Like any relationship, growth in faith is not linear or correlated to effort or action. It is often hard to see the growth until you are looking backwards at it, but trust that if you are seeking it, it will come.
2020 has reinforced to me that there is no safe place from the tempests of life outside of relationship rooted in God. The challenge that awaits all of us is to step out from those places we pretend are safe, uncomfortable as it may be, and to see what is possible.