Welcome to 2021! “THANK GOD!” you think to yourself. It is a new year, and as per usual, your head is brimming with ideas of goals and resolutions, hopes and dreams. The change from “0” to “1” symbolizes the change we all are praying this new year will bring. But if you’d allow me, I’d like to take this moment to pull you aside and gently remind you to be gentle with yourself.
I’ve been feeling something different about this new year. Maybe you have too? I normally don’t buy into the idea of new year’s resolutions. There is always a pressure around the end of December to reflect and dissect, to organize and plan. To get pumped up and motivated that this year will be the year. But this year I feel a different pressure underlying all of this.
Maybe 2020 may have felt like a total disappointment. Like 365 days you will never get back. Starting a new year, I not only feel this pressure to make resolutions, but to also make this next year special, to somehow make choices that will make up for the losses of 2020.
Maybe your Christmas this year was a lot smaller than usual. No hustle, no bustle, no big turkey dinner, and maybe you feel pressure to make up for that. This year, everyone will be invited. It will be bigger and better than ever before. I heard it said many times this past holiday season that “we will make up for this next year”. But maybe we should be asking ourselves: “Should we?”
This year was my daughter’s first Christmas, and what happened reminded me of 2020 and this global pandemic. I was so excited to show my daughter her gifts. I knew she had no understanding of what was going on, but I thought that the gifts I had picked were so good that they would get some sort of reaction out of her. I knew my daughter, and I knew what she needed and what she would like.
Come Christmas morning, she wasn’t quite herself. She was whiney, and to be honest, a bit miserable. It was clear that she was finding the unwrapping, the lights, and the multiple virtual chats with family overwhelming (and if I’m honest, so was I). Because of all this, she wasn’t interested in the good gifts I had given her.
But when the video chats were done, the gifts unwrapped, and we sat together as a family on the ground, my little girl started to become the smiley girl I knew. In the following calm days she started to explore the new things I had gotten her as I put them out one at a time. She was able to appreciate and enjoy these good gifts in the calm and in the quiet. And I think we are the same.
I know we all want to get back to normal; to give our loved ones a hug, to arrange a playdate or visit our elderly parents. But what if the “normal” we are striving to get back to is the exact thing that God is trying to save us from? I’m not saying that personal contact, birthday parties or going out for dinners are bad. I hope we can do all of these things again soon. What I am saying is this: maybe it is better for us to not go back to how things were, but instead find a different way – maybe even better way. A way that allows us to be able to see our loved ones but not return to the crazy, overcommitted, overstretched and overwhelming schedules that we were so used to. A way where we can go out on a date night but not go back to wasting hours in rush hour traffic, missing out on family time, or opening up our work email before we even kiss our spouse good morning.
I know that just because you haven’t been able to socialize or go into your office that 2020 has been calm or quiet. I know this year has been extremely stressful and has completely derailed the systems we had in place to take care of all we have on our plates. I know that some of you probably feel lonely, and maybe some of you don’t have the same support networks through COVID that you used to have. But I do think that COVID has had a way of showing us what really matters and what we can actually live without, even when we thought we couldn’t. It has challenged everything we had just accepted as a way of life.
God wants to bless us with good gifts (James 1:17, Matthew 7:9-11) and He wants to be in connection with us. But in this busy and overstimulating world, it can be very difficult to hear His still, small voice. When we are being pulled in a dozen different directions, it can feel impossible to still ourselves and be in connection with Him. And like the good good Father that He is, God knows better. He knows how we can flourish, and I can’t help but think of this pandemic as a way to quiet us down so we can actually see and appreciate His good good gifts.
How noisy do you think a town would have been back in Jesus’ day? The hustle and bustle, the marketplace, the people, the vendors, the braying donkeys. And Jesus would constantly remove himself, stepping away to be quiet and still, to spend time with God, to hear His voice, to be in communication, to be in relationship (Luke 5:16). How much more noisy do you think our world and lives have become? Our phones constantly binging and interrupting, our thoughts running wild keeping us up at night, the traffic, the talk shows. How much more do you think that we need to quiet ourselves and be still?
One day I was doing my devotions and was feeling dry and tired. I so much wanted to hear God’s voice. I felt desperate. As I tried to focus, I could hear the footsteps upstairs, the television on, and my baby babbling in the next room. I felt this deep need to quiet myself, so instinctually, like a child, I covered my ears and I heard the rushing of the blood in my ears. But I also started to hear my heart beating. In those quiet thumps, I started to discern a pattern, and I felt God write a poem on my heart. Following the rhythm of my heart beating THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, I heard these words:
I AM WITH YOU
BE STILL AND KNOW
I AM WITH YOU
STAND UP AND GO
I AM WITH YOU
I now often sing this song to my little girl as I put her to sleep. God uses my very heartbeat, and yours as well, to remind us that we are not alone. But more importantly, it reminds us that we first need to be still and know him first, before we stand up and do what He has asked us to do. We need to earnestly seek out the quiet, to be still and listen to our heartbeats’ anthem.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” // Psalms 46:10
Maybe this year doesn’t have to be the year you lose those extra pounds, or organize your spices alphabetically. Maybe this year doesn’t have to make up for 2020, because maybe 2020 did exactly what it was supposed to. Maybe this year can be a year where the idea of “normal” is questioned and dissected. This year, let me remind you to be gentle with yourself as you grieve what was lost in 2020. But with your spine straight and strong, step forward into this new year confident in knowing that God is in the business of redeeming all that was lost.
Be still and know
I am with you
Stand up and go
I am with you.
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