Last month, 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 in 2020 through the pandemic.
As we look into 2021, it’s important to allow the things “behind” us to propel us forward. Otherwise, we could end up caught in an endless cycle of learning and re-learning the same lessons, with no lasting spiritual and emotional growth to speak of.
Today, I’m concluding my review of things I learned in 2020. If you’d like to read the first three points, click here.
4. Judgemental attitudes are inwardly and outwardly destructive
We naturally gravitate towards trying to control our lives. As I’ve written before, we are all addicts to control. This is one of the most insidious addictions that humankind experiences. Most of us don’t actually wrestle with it because it’s a socially acceptable addiction, and even acceptable within the context of our churches. But it is not acceptable to God.
With coronavirus, much of the control we usually enjoy has been stripped away. We are in withdrawal. We search for a substitute way to regain our footing, and many of us have latched on to criticism and judgement.
Our leaders are an easy target, whether they’re our politicians or our bosses. One boss I know of was recently criticized by her underlings for writing them a Christmas poem. One of her staff said, “How nice that she has the time to write a bloody poem while we’re all slaving away in the trenches.”
These days, while the entire world is battling coronavirus, it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves with each other, and come to some pretty harsh conclusions.
We might be tempted to judge our politicians, our bosses, our neighbours, our coworkers, our friends—anyone with whom we come into contact.
The reality is that most of us are doing the best we can in unprecedented times. That article I mentioned earlier could just as easily have been called “The Year of the Great Bumbling”. We are all bumbling away, and we each need a large dose of grace, compassion, and patience with each other. We each have different allotments of compassion, self-control, concentration, and so on. We also have different levels of mental health. Those who have larger supplies of these things might have an easier time acting in appropriate ways right now, while those who have smaller amounts might thrive better in other circumstances.
We have no idea under what conditions that boss wrote her poem. Maybe it was at 2 in the morning, after agonizing over yet another life-and-death decision. Maybe she thought that writing something for her staff might encourage one of them through a difficult time. It doesn’t even matter if the poem is good or bad. The reality is that she has given what she could, and deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. She deserves to be treated with respect and kindness, just like we want to be treated.
For me, the question has really become: will I selfishly adopt a critical attitude towards the people around me, as a form of self-soothing, a replacement for the control I have lost? Or, will I open up my mind and imagination to take me into the potential experiences of others, and do my best to encourage and strengthen them in these difficult times?
Like it or not, we will all be judged at the end of time. We won’t be judged for the things that have happened to us, but for the way we chose to react to them. We always have a choice. I hope I can make mine count for something good.
5. We all need each other. Really need each other.
And when we don’t have regular contact with people we love, things go south, fast.
It’s not just the babies in that cruel 1940’s experiment who died when they didn’t receive the love and physical touch they required to survive . I’ve heard of at least one person literally dying of loneliness in this time.
I’m challenged again to find ways to creatively bring the human “touch” into my interactions with people, to show them how loved and precious they are. At no other time in my life have people been so open to showing their needs and vulnerabilities. I hope that I can be responsible with the gift of this openness, and find ways to bring Jesus’ encouragement and hope to broken people.
6. People are not generally as mentally healthy as I thought.
Much as we’ve all (or most of us have) masked up during this period, never have we each been more unmasked.
As all of our socially-acceptable norms have been stripped away, we’ve each gravitated to our own “tribe” that thinks the same as we do about the protocols now in place. Our tribes validate our perspective, and often denigrate opposing ones.
Some of us are full of grace towards people with opposing viewpoints, but more often, grace is the broken beer bottle at the side of the road—something we once appreciated, but we’ve now discarded it and treat it like trash.
Those struggling with mental illness are exposed in all their sickness. Those on the healthier end of the spectrum look on in horror and recognize that they aren’t so far away from their own health implosions. They do what they can to shore up their defences and hope they can weather the storm.
A report put out by Statistics Canada has said that the percentage of people self-reporting as mentally healthy has dropped from 68% to 55% between 2019 and October 2020. 
Keep in mind that these statistics are dependant on self-reporting. I suspect that the actual level of mental health is much lower than 55%. That’s because you have to achieve a certain level of competency to be able to recognize your own failings.
When I was in my first year of university, I didn’t do so well. I was mentally unhealthy at the time, and was battling a number of personal demons. I had also managed to land myself in one of the most difficult engineering programs in all of North America.
I well remember one exam (which I had actually studied for, unlike some of the others) in particular. I walked out of there feeling pretty good about it. Mind you, I didn’t think I had gotten an A. Probably not even a B. But I had done alright. Or so I thought.
It turned out I’d failed. And not just by a little bit. I’d gotten 30%.
I’d walked out of that exam thinking I’d done okay, but the reality is that I didn’t know enough to recognize how poorly I’d done.
This principle translates into the world of mental health. It takes a certain level of mental health to recognize that we are ourselves mentally unhealthy. So although 55% of Canadians report that they are in good mental condition, it’s likely that a significant portion is so mentally unhealthy that they cannot appropriately gauge their own status.
Do you remember when conspiracy theories were the sole domain of schizophrenics and people who holed themselves up in bunkers?
These days, sharing conspiracy theories has become a normal activity—in some cases, almost a form of entertainment. But the number of people who seriously and actively believe in conspiracies has also ballooned.
I don’t think it’s any accident that such theories are rampant right now.
I wonder if the same psychological mechanism that propels us towards criticism in times of helplessness also makes constructing conspiracy theories more attractive. Conspiracy theories in some ways help us to regain a sense of power and worth. We can “see” truths that other people can’t. This helps us to feel especially intelligent and insightful. After all, we have the inside track into what’s “really” going on.
Our psychological threat systems are already activated by the toll the pandemic and requisite countermeasures are taking on us. Now we have the ability to turn the focus of our threatened feelings to a person or governmental system. It’s easier to counterattack an animate person than an inanimate virus.
But the reality is that a conspiracy theory-riddled life is not a God-honouring one. A friend recently pointed out a set of Bible verses that seem especially relevant right now:
“Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.“
In our times of helplessness, rather than trying to find someone to blame, or concocting wild stories, I need to turn my focus on Jesus. I need to embrace my own helplessness because it showcases Jesus’ strength.
I don’t need to shore up my self-esteem through criticism or conspiracy. Jesus tells me that I’m precious to Him, and that’s enough. It’s okay to be weak, because He is strong.
 “US Experiment on infants withholding affection,” Values Exchange, last updated 8 January 2013, https://stpauls.vxcommunity.com/Issue/us-experiment-on-infants-withholding-affection/13213,
 “Impacts on Mental Health,” Statistics Canada, last updated 20 October 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-631-x/2020004/s3-eng.htm.