The news headlines continue to be dominated by lockdowns, restrictions, case counts, and vaccines. Those topics also turn up regularly in discussions I have with friends and family. This is a reality of the time we live in, the continuous news cycle, and a never-ending supply of social media.
As we start a new year with hope for a brighter 2021, I find myself wondering, what are we hopeful for? Is it a return to life as it looked in January and February of 2020? A modified version with the acceptance that life will be more inward-looking and less open than it was?
I saw a post on social media this week that said something to the effect of: ‘Don’t claim 2021 as your year. Be careful and walk in real slow…’. And that makes sense given the year we have just lived through. There has been loss, damage, and disappointment, and it is natural that we may have trepidations about the year ahead.
With that said, looking at what the past year has taught us, surely it must be more than to be careful and cautious?
Personally and professionally, I cannot think of a year like 2020 in which I was challenged on so many levels. Constantly changing landscapes affected our family and work arrangements and leading a finance team through what seemed like an economic blender brought me more than I was prepared to handle heading into the year. These challenges were common in nature with those faced by nearly everyone as the months rolled on. It was a stressful time.
Yet by looking deeper, on a heart level, I know there was much more going on.
When life seems to be going off the rails, I am tempted to look upwards and ask, “Why is this happening?” or “How can you let this happen, God?”. This is a natural response, regardless of one’s faith or beliefs. Looking at the world and seeing the injustice and pain, it is hard to understand the ‘why’ and the truth is that I often do not.
Over the last few years, however, I have learned that rather than asking why and I should be seeking the ‘what’, as in, ‘What are you trying to teach me through this?’ or ‘What part of my life needs to grow through this experience?’ In Wild at Heart, one of my favourite authors, John Eldredge, highlights the difference in these perspectives, suggesting that when we ask God ‘Why?’, we are really asking Him to make life easier for us rather than interpreting what is happening as an opportunity for growth.
2020 has shaken the foundations of ‘normal life’. Compare the way we behave and act in public now to a year ago – if you could go back and show someone from January 2020 what life a year later looks like, they would think you were crazy. Other than go crazy myself trying to cope with it all (which has certainly felt like a not-so-distant option at times this past year), I have tried to look at all that has happened as a process of initiation, as if I, along with all of us, are being prepared for something beyond the pandemic. And if there is initiation, there is an initiator. I believe that God wants to shape us through life’s tough experiences and wants good to come forth from the process.
Looking to the Father
This dynamic helps me to look to God as a boy looks to his father in uncertain moments and know that no matter how dark things may seem, everything is going to be ok because I am not alone. I think of experiences with my son when he has felt unsure of himself facing a particular challenge and the impact I can have on him by crouching down, looking into his eyes and saying, ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got this. I believe in you.’ In the same way, when all hell seemed to be breaking loose in 2020, I have felt that same steadying hand on my shoulder and it has given me the strength to push forward through difficult and uncertain times.
Throughout this past year, one thing my wife and I kept going back to, as we tried to navigate the state of the world with our children, is our overarching belief that God is bigger than a pandemic or anything else going on in the world and that He remains with us through all of this. This idea was not one that I had consciously spent a lot of time thinking about in the past, but it was one that helped me grow in resilience throughout 2020.
The Demands of a New Year
We are not finished with the challenges that 2020 presented us with. As we look towards 2021 with hope, I have a sense that all the work done in me, all the experience gained through 2020, that these things are not for nothing.
As I look at my own situation in 2021, I see there being two clear options available.
The first is to continue to become more inward-looking and protect what we have. To not venture far from what is certain and safe and to tread lightly. 2020 brought heightened risk and fear to our lives on a scale most of us have never experienced and there is a natural tendency to want to play it safe in 2021 – whether that is economic, social, spiritual, or otherwise – to shore up and accept the situation as it is.
The second option is to be bold. To search for what is being asked of us in 2021 with belief that we have been made for this moment. To seek growth, connection, and relationship in our families, our communities, in faith, and allow ourselves to continually be shaped into something new through all the challenges we face.
Personally, I feel called to look outwards and to seek new paths in 2021 in all aspects of my life. I feel challenged to go deeper in my relationship with God, to press into family and relationships, to think boldly and strategically as a professional, and to not live in fear.
As we look back on 2020, there is no doubt of the loss and disappointment that was experienced by most people on Earth. This needs to be acknowledged and mourned. Yet, if that is all the year has left us with, I think we have missed something big.
2020 has forced all of us to face and overcome challenges we never expected or wanted. As we come through these and look forward, we should ask ourselves what good can come of all of it and look forward to a year ahead in true hope of what is possible. 2021 may demand still more of us, but I am confident that it is possible for us to emerge from the past year stronger and boldly face what the new year will bring.
I will not tiptoe into 2021. I choose to live in hope for the year ahead. I hope you do too.
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