Goodbye, 2020. Adios. Arrivederci. Au revoir. Sayonara. Good riddance. Get outta here and don’t come back, you hear? I don’t know anyone who will regret giving a hearty goodbye to this arduous, grievous, and all-around unpredictable year. A viral pandemic spanned the globe, killing nearly 2 million people and sickening tens of millions more. Economic strife followed on COVID’s heels as businesses, schools, sports, and churches tried to flex, but many failed. Long-simmering social ills boiled over in violence, destruction, heartache, and confusion. Our attempts to solve our problems seemed only to make things worse.
Oh, and 2020 saw wild political conflicts around the world, more polarizing than ever, even for a U.S. election year. And keep in mind, we faced all this trouble on top of the usual trials, disappointments, job loss, breakups, and funerals of an ordinary year. Thus, for most of us, 2020 represents all that’s wrong in the world. We long to leave it behind. So, as we look over the hillcrest, we say goodbye and good riddance to 2020.
But wait! Lest we allow nihilism to fester in the wounds of yesteryear, we can’t just cut our losses and cast our weary sorrows into the sea of forgetfulness…at least not yet. We’re still Christians, after all. God wastes no suffering in the exercise of His good providence. He collects our tears in a bottle, remember. He infuses every moment with wise gifts of gospel blessing; even in the years dominated by loss and loneliness He visits us with grace. As faithful travelers, we must dig up the treasures He has buried the field of 2020, before we move down the road. Although we rightly lament a year gone bad, it is right to take inventory of the good gifts.
Gift #1: An Opportunity to Feel Our Creatureliness
This year preached the same sermon every week: You ought to say, “If the Lord wills we will do this or that” (James 4:15). We have a natural sense that our lives are in our hands, but in reality, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We’re at the good mercy of our God.
We are creatures who quickly lose the sense of our place in God’s world. We swiftly forget the vast creature-Creator distinction in daily life. Though creatures by nature, we act more like the Creator. We consider it our right to do as we please, when we please, without hindrance and consideration of others. The past year served to impose on us the feeling of our creatureliness. In short time, many people woke up to stay-at-home orders, carry-out only food service, requirements to wear masks, and temperature checks to enter public places. We admit the restrictions didn’t sit well with us at first. We aren’t accustomed to being told what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go. The irony of it all is that our wise and loving Creator restricts our lives in every way, and it goes virtually unnoticed by us…until we feel it.
In truth, living as creatures of the true Creator is a gift. It means we belong to Him; we depend on Him; we seek satisfaction in Him; we need Him ,and we have Him! And yet in so many ways, we drive out the feeling of finitude. Thus, God embedded in 2020 a reminder that we exist as creatures in His world. If we will receive the gift, an appreciation for our sovereign, wise, and good Creator will grow. Are you happy to be God’s beloved creature in 2021?
Gift #2: A Time to Reconsider Priorities
Fits and starts riddle my life. I latch onto a new toy or pursuit, and I’m all in. In a short time, another toy catches my attention and a new pursuit piques my curiosity. I leave the former and chase the latter. I’m fickle. My priorities ebb and flow.
Most of us don’t struggle to chase after good things, but the up and down fluctuation of our pursuits holds us back. I wonder if we simply have too many good things to choose from. We need help keeping the main things the main things. Enter the pruning power of 2020. As I talk with neighbors about months gone by, I ask what changed for the good. Invariably I hear (and report from my own life) 2020 served to prune away the less important pursuits and pleasures of life, and ushered in a new focus on what matters most.
As hardships lopped off some of the lower limbs, better priorities budded and blossomed for us. For many of us, stay-at-home orders infused family time with a new sweetness. Slowdowns pressed pause on our hustle and for once we actually had a little time to ponder the meaning of our lives, and how a renewed focus could increase our joy. Are you coming away from 2020 with a clearer vision for life in the new year?
Gift #3: A Renewed Longing for Community
2020 refreshed our memory of why the Bible emphasizes community and fellowship. Businesses around the world sent employees to work from home in sweeping numbers. Offices were closed, and in some cases, sold off in lieu of safer and more cost-effective remote workspaces. Churches moved from in-person services to livestreamed “gatherings.” Zoom and FaceTime calls replaced much face-to-face interaction. As a little time passed, we came to see the importance of community fellowship. Meeting in pixels just isn’t the same as meeting in person.
The new familiarity with isolation and quarantine produced devastating effects. Experts say depression, anxiety, abuse, and suicide rose sharply. In untold ways, the loss of human connection shriveled our personal health. But as we’ve always boasted, absence did make the heart grow fonder. We came to realize our need for each another, especially as Christians.
The past year required us to move toward one another with a unique level of intentionality and purpose. With a new year approaching, we feel a renewed appreciation for personal ministry together. We need to talk and pray and laugh and meet in person, because we are built for such community. So, we must ensure we leave 2020 with the gift of community in hand. And as a result, we enter 2021 with a new affection for the people and events and gatherings we’ve missed this year.
Gift #4: An Awakening to The Weakness around Us
I could find many grievous words to characterize the past year. Pandemic. Racism. Politics. Isolation. Lock-down. Death. As I’ve reflected over this holiday season, another word stands at the top of my list: Weakness. 2020 was a year of profound weakness. Yes, we felt our own weakness in many ways. But over and above it, we were given the gift of an awakening to the weakness around us.
When life rolls along on a smooth path, under the glow of green lights, we lose sight of other people. The feeling that all is well in our lives overshadows the reality that much remains wrong in the lives of our neighbors. In many ways, 2020 served us by opening our eyes to the suffering of our friends, acquaintances, and even the strangers in our communities. Sufferings splashed across our news feeds, with a new painful reality coming to light each week. Frustrated and hurting people gathered in the streets demanding change. Jobs were lost. Loved ones died. And the weak became weaker. Most years we find it easy to tune out the weak of our world. But this year suffering rang in our ears, with increasing volume.
Awakening to weakness leads us to Christ who can help. As I considered the last 12 months, a comforting truth has come home in a new way. Jesus is the Savior of the weak. We know well that Jesus loves sinners like us. But, oh, how quickly we forget Jesus’ love for the weak. He loves the downcast, the oppressed, the struggling, the slow-moving, the poor. Jesus loves to love people in their weakness. In fact, He ordains weakness for the purpose of meeting us in our failings. And He calls His people to enter the world of the weak. He calls us to understand their need. He calls us to bring them Christ and His answers. What if we become blind to the weakness around us? We will fail to share Jesus’ love for the weak. Thus, through 2020—the year of weakness—God has given us yet another gift.
Hello, 2021! Come On In—We’ve Been Expecting You.
Tomorrow we welcome a new year. Hopefully, 2021 will usher a return to the normal routines and rhythms of life. We want to get back to work, back to school, back to church, and back together. And into the hope of a new life in a new year, we can—we must—carry with us the gifts of 2020. What difference will we make, if the lessons of yesteryear lie in the past, when we desperately need in them in the future. So, as you look forward during these final days, a few questions you might consider:
1. What gifts did 2020 give you this year?
2. How did 2020 change the way you see and serve God and the world?
3. What priorities will you pursue more fervently in this New Year?
May the Lord bless our efforts to carry His gifts with us as we say hello to 2021.