Lessons Learned from 2020

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult year. Most of us would prefer to simply put it out of our minds and proceed on to 2021, which many have assumed will be much better. I don’t wish to debate the merits of that belief here; I prefer to talk about the important lessons that have been presented for us to learn from this year, if we have the wisdom to see them.

There are, of course, the obvious ones about which everyone have posted all over social media. There are continued warnings about COVID: masks, social distancing, washing your hands, and so on. There are also memes about how this pandemic has made us realize the importance of intangibles like family, simplicity in living and such. While these are relevant and important lessons I support, there are deeper, more important ones Rita and I have learned this year which I would like to share.

  • We’ve been reminded that in all the chaos, confusion, death, destruction, hatred and evil we’ve seen this year, God is still in control. While it may seem things have never been worse, a cursory review of history shows there have been other periods of time which those who were alive at the time thought were the end of the world. We have always had plagues, wars, hatred, riots and uprisings; they’re part of being human and having to live with other humans. If you rely solely on the media to formulate your worldview you’d be convinced we stand on the cusp of the apocalypse, and simply leaving your house means putting your life at risk. Fear is what defines your life. God didn’t design us to live that way. Though He may sometimes seem distant and disinterested in what’s happening, God uses the chaos to accomplish two things: He reminds us we aren’t in control, and He’s there waiting for us to look to Him because He is. You won’t hear that from the mainstream media, or anyone else, for that matter, unless you dig deeply into His Word. There you will learn about God’s promises that give us hope.
  • No matter how much you think you trust God, He will always give you opportunities to grow that trust. As those of you who read my posts know, my wife Rita was found to have cancer of the uterus and surrounding lymph nodes. Beginning some time next month she will have five weeks of radiation therapy, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy spaced three weeks apart (that’s the current plan; if the CT scan she’s having today shows more involvement the plan will need to be revised). We’ve been down this road twice already, only I had the cancer and she was the caretaker. Now the roles are reversed. It’s my turn to take care of her, the difference being her treatment regimen will be more difficult than mine. It will be more challenging to manage side effects, stave off depression and a feeling of wanting to give up, and hope and pray for the desired outcome, which is a full cure. We trust God, but our trust is being challenged at a whole new level. What comes to mind is a quote my cousin attributed to my uncle as he faced pancreatic cancer: “I’ve told you about my faith; now I get to show you what it looks like”. That summarizes our thoughts precisely. This is our opportunity to grow in our faith and trust, and to shine with His glory as He demonstrates what His power can do, no matter the outcome.
  • While it has been a year of isolation and loneliness, God has shown us what a remarkable crowd of loving, caring, praying people surround us. One of the greatest gifts of Rita’s and my life together has been the amazing people we’ve met over the years. We could literally spend the rest of our lives traveling the country to visit all the friends we’ve made. Through the challenges of my mother’s death, both of our cancers, and the problems of the pandemic, we’ve received phone calls, visits, cards, meals and text/email/social media contacts from so many friends to let us know how much they love us and have been praying for us. It’s overwhelming, humbling, uplifting, sustaining; it simply defies words. It is no hyperbole for me to say that we love each and every one of you, and are so thankful for your love and prayers.
  • One of the most interesting and important lessons to come out of this year has to do with trusting God’s timing. Yes, this year has been tough, and yes, it feels like we were continually bludgeoned with one thing after another. But with a broader view, something wonderful emerges from all the tragedy. My cancer treatment ended in March, which allowed me to recover to the point where I can now care for Rita. While we miss my Mom but rejoice in her being at home with God, her passing was in itself a blessing, because she didn’t know anything about Rita’s cancer. It would have distressed her greatly, a distress she didn’t need in addition to her own dealing with pain, dementia and need for total care. Some may call it a coincidence; I don’t believe in luck or coincidence. I believe in a God who spoke this universe into creation, who designed an infinite amount of order into it, and who still orders and controls it according to His infinite, perfect wisdom. Always trust His timing.
  • While many people have a very optimistic outlook for 2021, I prefer to withhold judgment for now. There’s really nothing to suggest things will magically be better other than a sort of “hope against hope” that they will. I hope things do get better. But even if they don’t (or get worse), there’s a hope that withstands any conditions, any struggles, any situations. It’s the hope found in the One who died on a Cross, the one whom the world just celebrated for his birth. But Jesus Christ was born for one purpose: to be the perfect sacrifice to overcome what we couldn’t, the power of sin and death. The power that feeds our fear, our anxieties, our hopelessness. We can rid ourselves of all of those through surrender and obedience to Jesus’ call to follow Him. If you seek hope, joy, and peace in a new year, He’s where you need to look. My hope, my prayer for you is that you will.