Reflections on 2020
The end of year reflection post has become a tradition for many in the internet age, and I suspect that 2020 will bring more than usual. After all, there can't be many people alive today for whom 2020 was not one of the most unusual years they've ever experienced! I am sure that no two people have had an identical year. And yet, the global nature of our shared experience is one of the things that has made it so extraordinary. And so, on this next to last day of 2020, I humbly add my thoughts to the din.
Our household lockdown started just as unexpectedly as everyone else's, but a few days earlier than most. On Monday, March 9, I was making dinner in the kitchen while Amanda showered. I was listening to a grad school lecture on headphones, reached to turn off the kitchen timer, and suddenly found a pot of boiling chicken stock flying off the stove and covering my hands, forearms, and stomach. Unable to type for a couple of weeks due to second-degree burns, I spent the next few days frantically working from my phone left-handed as the entire world shut down. Capital University was the first to cancel events, then the symphony, Ohio Christian, and the church. COVID-19 procedures became more and more restrictive with each follow-up appointment at the Ohio State burn center. Finally, it became clear that there would be no in-person commencement ceremony to attend in Michigan at the end of my seminary studies.
Fortunately, my injuries healed within about six weeks. Still, I think it's likely that my kitchen accident will always feel like the inciting incident for this most unusual year rather than the virus itself. Our lives changed on March 9, and there has been no "normal" since then. And yet, I can't call 2020 a "bad" year. On the contrary, I have much for which to thank God. This year brought a completed master's degree, a new job, some much-appreciated travel (in the "before" times, of course), and strengthened family relationships. We don't take for granted our ability to keep working (from home, no less), and we've been intentional about supporting local businesses and nonprofits with our resources. Extra, if unexpected, time at home has been sweet, and we've seen beautiful and profound growth in our marriage this year. Like many, we've also used the slower pace to take stock of our pre-pandemic lifestyle and schedule. In many ways, the pandemic has forced me to live in a way that I have long idealized, and the margin has been a blessing. It hasn't all been positive, but I hope to be more intentional in the future about resuming some of the activities that disappeared without warning this year.
I don't mean to imply that 2020 has been all good. We have felt the loss of in-person time with family, friends, and our church community. Extra time to play music is a mixed blessing when you can't do it with and for others. And like so many, we have experienced the loss of friends and family members, to COVID and otherwise. Some funerals couldn't take place, and others we made the difficult decision not to attend. The real cost of this year has been all too evident in these moments, happening far too often. We recognize that many have experienced far more loss of normalcy, jobs, and life. What has mostly been inconvenient for us has been truly devastating for others.
And so, in the twilight of 2020, I find myself thinking about the Old Testament book of Job. Appealing to Job's experience in hard times can feel a bit cliché, in part because our trials always seem to pale in comparison to his. After all, when the emergency room nurse asked me to rate my pain from one to ten on March 9, I paused. On the one hand, I had never felt such excruciating pain in my thirty-four years. On the other, I could imagine several situations that would probably hurt even worse. I think I said I was at a seven. It's easy to do the same thing with Job, reserving the wisdom found in that book for a hypothetical worst-case scenario that never comes. But if we can't resonate with Job in this year of unprecedented loss and upheaval, when can we?
At the end of the first chapter, with his wealth destroyed, his property in ruins, and his children dead, we read that "Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'" (Job 1:20-21 ESV). What a remarkable response to unimaginable loss! Job was in deep despair, yet he knew that all he had came from God and recognized his need to accept both good and bad from God's hand. Ultimately, he trusted that there was a higher plan than his own. And isn't that where we find ourselves? Our social media feeds tend to edit out the hard parts of life and focus on the good, but we can't avoid the difficulties of a year like this one. Similarly, focusing only on the bad denies us the silver linings that can bless us even in the most trying times.
In the same way, it's impossible to take stock of 2020 without accepting it in its messy totality. Good and bad, beautiful and ugly, joy and pain - all of these high highs and low lows have made this year what it was. I am grateful for another year on this earth and all of the people and experiences that continue to shape my life for good, no matter what comes. I am praying for an end to the pandemic in 2021, but I'm ready to accept whatever God has in store. And to those reading, I pray that you will be blessed with a healthy and peaceful new year!
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