The other day, I saw an article with the title, “The Year of the Great Humbling”, and it spurred me to think about the things that happened to each of us over the past year through the pandemic.
Many of us would love to close the book on 2020 and forget it ever happened. But I think this would be a grave error. When we go through times of suffering, we can choose to complain (loudly!) until it’s over. Or, we can humble our hearts, and open ourselves up to learn from these times of suffering.
In my experience, if we take the second option instead of the first, we can be delightfully surprised to discover that we can even achieve a certain sense of joy and pleasure even in the midst of suffering. No, we don’t take pleasure in the suffering, but because our hearts are open and willing, we can find things to enjoy even in spite of it.
So, here are some of the lessons I’m taking with me from last year into this new year.
1. What I do now has a bigger impact on the environment than I thought.
We’ve always been told that the damage human beings have caused to the earth will take millennia to fix. Yet, when we were removed from polluting it in 2020, the earth bounced back so quickly!
Over the years, I’ve developed a certain indifferent attitude towards the environment because I didn’t think anything I did would make a difference. I need to repent of these sinful attitudes. Peter has always been much more sensitive to environmental issues than I am. As he likes to say, “Taking care of the planet was one of the very first commands that God gave humanity.”
It’s time for me to repent of my sinful, entitled attitudes towards the earth, and start obeying that very first command that God gave us.
2. If we suffer well the first time, it prepares us to suffer well the next.
As many of you know, I spent almost 2 years housebound because of a back injury starting near the end of 2011. During that time, we would be fired from our first organization because of that injury; and be adrift for about a year in Japan with no organization, unable to return to Canada because I was too injured to travel. That was a dark time, full of physical, emotional and spiritual pain. We were isolated from the Japanese by our previous organization’s prohibition on doing “formal ministry” before we found a new organization, and by the great physical distance between us and our Canadian friends and family.
Yet still God enabled us to thrive. He showed us things that we could be grateful for. He opened our eyes to see the myriad ministry opportunities that were still available to us in an informal capacity. He enabled us to honour Him despite physical, organizational, cultural, and linguistic restrictions.
Though that was the hardest period I’ve ever encountered in my life, it was also the best. God was so present with us, tenderly teaching us new lessons, restoring and rejuvenating us even as our dreams fell apart around us. We realized that our greatest desire was for Jesus alone, and in that realization He made our deepest, most desperate dreams come true.
Fast forward to 2020. Again, we were faced with swaths of isolation, of being unable to do ministry the way that we had hoped and dreamed. But we had experience. We have been able to fall back into the same strategies and mentalities that we developed that first time. They kind of fit like an old, familiar pair of favourite jeans.
Last time, I didn’t have a choice about whether or not to be housebound. My injury prohibited many actions. When injured, I went through a time of fighting the injury, of trying to somehow get better more quickly, of trying to break through the barrier of my physical limitations by sheer force of will. Eventually, though, in order to survive I had to come to a place where I accepted it. This wasn’t a place of surrender to the injury, but it was a place of patience with the limitations of my body, and of surrender to God. This allowed me to refocus my energy. Instead of expending it on an unwinnable battle, I was able to concentrate on how I might use what little I had to honour God and help expand His kingdom.
I have talked with many people who have experienced health issues and injuries, and almost universally they have found weathering this time to be easier than people who have not had these experiences. That’s because they, too, have at some point developed an attitude of acceptance towards the frailty of their bodies. This acceptance has been transferred to the current restrictions with COVID-19.
If we work to accept our situation, and submit it and ourselves to God, the attitudes and mentalities that we adopt now will make us more robust in dealing with future challenges.
3. Journalling is vital to our learning process.
I’ve found myself using my past journals from my back injury to help nourish my spirit, encourage myself, and frame my mindset in this current pandemic. This has meant that I don’t have to re-learn all of the lessons from that earlier time (though there have definitely been some that required a few reminders). I can use those former lessons as a springboard, and keep learning more this time.
I’d encourage you, too, to pick up your journal as the year changes and write yourself a summary of what you’ve learned in the past months. I suspect that we’ve all learned things that we never want to forget. But the reality is that we will if we don’t record them.
This time has been difficult for so many of us. Let’s not let it go to waste. Let’s allow the lessons our Father has taught us to influence the people we become in the future—not in a negative, life-shattering way, but in one that makes us more resilient in the future as we actively engage in trusting and obeying Him.
My list of lessons has become quite long, so I’ll save the last three ones for next time. Please check back next week!