The Forgotten Week of the Year
– Processing 2020 –
A number of years ago, while I was in college and still living at home, my parents decided to go to Scotland to spend Christmas with my sister. I moved in with my other sister who lived close by, spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day (Dec. 26) with her family. After the Christmas festivities I decided to host some of my friends for a New Year’s Eve gathering. It turned out to be a relatively relaxed affair with food, music, more food, and some leftover Cadbury chocolates (a standard in the Herron home over Christmas!). That night, as we were seated around the dining room table, we spontaneously began to look back on the year that had just passed. We shared our successes, our failures, our joys, and our losses.
From my mid-teens, my New Year’s Eve would be spent hanging out with friends, watching the fireworks from London on TV at midnight, then sleeping in the following day. But this New Year’s Eve was different. At the ripe age of 21, it was the first time I intentionally took time to reflect on the previous 12 months of my life before jumping into the new year. There was something about looking back on those experiences in the company of close friends that has stuck with me. I’ve since discovered that the days following Christmas (in what often becomes a forgotten week in the calendar) is a prime time to take a deep breath and reflect on the year behind us.
A Year in Review
Few of us could have anticipated the last 12 months we have just walked through. I had high hopes for 2020 in part because I thought the year “just sounded cool.” – How could it possibly be a bad year when it sounds like the best year ever?
Recently, my daughter, Ellie, and I sat and read some of her monthly kids’ magazine. Amongst the illustrated stories, craft projects, and photos of kids’ creations, they featured a double-page spread on COVID-19. As they looked to explain the pandemic to a six-year-old audience, I was struck again at just how quite unbelievable it all sounds. Our only reference to the kind of reality we’ve witnessed this year had previously been in Hollywood movies or science fiction books. Yet this year has been all too real in so many ways.
Before March of this year, the idea of social distancing and wearing face coverings (even the use of Zoom!) was a foreign concept to most. And yet within a matter of weeks, these things had become commonplace in our lives. The effects of this new virus were felt almost instantly, impacting global industries along with the simple daily liberties that we took for granted. Familiar aspects of our lives, such as going to church, attending birthday parties, and celebrating holidays, were forced into a socially distanced or digital environment or canceled all together. For many however, the loss has been felt more deeply. Unexpected funerals and stories of goodbyes over iPads and phones have left numb hearts in their wake. Not to mention the heroic medical professionals who have been pushed to (or past) the brink of physical and emotional exhaustion.
This year also saw racial tensions rise in the light of the untimely deaths of several African American men and women. These events sparked protests across the country, which opened the eyes of a nation to the experience of many for whom social bias and ethnic discrimination is an unwelcome daily reality. Add to all of this a hurricane-strength storm and a deeply divisive and highly contested presidential race, and you have the makings of a year like no other!
Processing the Year
As we enter into the last few days of 2020, I encourage you to take time to consider how this year has impacted you personally. Take some time to look back, to process, and to pray, before you look ahead. Properly processing our personal experiences is key to our ongoing spiritual, mental, and physical health. Within Scripture we see God give us the space to look back and lament when needed. We’re encouraged to look up to where our help comes from as we look forward into the unknown.
Let me close with just a few suggestions as to how that reflection time might look:
Set aside some time in a quiet space to think back on your year. Perhaps you could do this month by month, recording the events in each, marking out your losses and joys. For any men reading this, we’re generally not very good at communicating our emotions. Yet learning the skill of pouring out our hearts before God and those we trust is key to developing a healthy, open, and authentic connection.
After you have written down everything, you may experience varying emotions. There might be joy, pain, disappointment, relief, or even confusion over what has happened this year. Whatever you are feeling, form it into prayers and bring them before God. Don’t be concerned about bringing negative emotions before God either. One third of the Psalms is made up of laments where people brought their hurt, disappointment, and confusion before Him. In the pages of Scripture we see a movement toward engagement with our grief and pain rather than denial. God has given us the space to bring our raw emotion to Him in an honest, authentic, and reverent way.
Lament also gives us the space to voice how we feel about an experience without having to resolve it practically or spiritually. I know I can be quick to want to provide an answer, or a solution, or even a reason for challenging circumstances in my own life. But we need to be careful not to jump so quickly to a “nevertheless” stance in these times. There is a space and a season to name our pain, our loss, and our disappointment without the need to attempt to resolve the mystery.
As mentioned above, the goal here isn’t to neatly resolve what is written down in front of you. Rather, I want us to be able to walk into this new year clinging to truths that speak to our varied experiences and bring hope, reassurance and strength within them.
When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and spoke of the baby she would carry, he spoke of how this child would be called “Immanuel, which means God with us”. God would come to earth and literally dwell among us. He understands the mountains and valleys of our everyday lives. This changes everything when it comes to bringing our own personal experiences. As you share with Him all that you’ve written, do it in the knowledge that He understands where you are coming from. He sympathizes with your weaknesses, He kneels with you in your sorrows.
We also serve a God who has unfathomable power to redeem the most difficult things. Whatever we are looking at on our page, we have hope that all is not lost. As author and prayer leader Pete Greig says: We mustn’t mistake God’s silence for His absence. He is at work within the ashes.
Lastly, we are reminded in the season of loss more than ever that this is not what was intended nor is it how it will end. There will come a day when we will see a new heaven, a new earth, empty of grief, loss, and disappointment, full of joy, peace, and wholeness.
Father, thank you that you’ve given us the space to pour out our hearts to you knowing we are fully loved and understood. Would you comfort those who grieve, embrace those at a loss for words, and give guidance and provisions where needed. Amen.