By Nathan Peterson

White-knuckling It through 2020

I burned my hand. Really bad. After rushing to google “boiling water burn treatment,” one of the first things I said was:

“2020 . . .”

You know what I’m talking about. The microwave burns up your Ramen, the Wi-Fi cuts out right before you submitted your mid-term, or your social media post triggers a whirlwind of angry comments. It’s almost like you can hear a collective groan echoing across our dorms, homes, and apartments: “2020 . . .”

But whenever I start blaming 2020, something feels off. Did I just blame a year for injuring myself? What do calendars have to do with getting distracted and pouring boiling water straight on my hand?

Don’t get me wrong. This year has been hard. Really hard for so many of us. If any year in the past few decades deserves to have Murphy’s law as its catchphrase, we found a winner.

Yet does 2020 really deserve to be the scapegoat for everything wrong in the world? Granted, when I’m blaming 2020, it’s a joke. But I can’t help wondering how much I secretly hope that once the clock strikes 12:01 on January 1, everything will be normal again. When that doesn’t happen, when January 1 feels an awful lot like December 31, how much harder will it be to keep moving forward with yet another disappointment?

As this year draws to a close, I realize I’ve too often been white-knuckling my way through it, just trying to hold on, keeping my grip for a little longer. And that’s just not healthy.

Fighting Lethargy

All 2020’s chaos and tension and “pandemicness” sometimes makes me want to hit the snooze button on life till this year’s over. I definitely think giving ourselves space to rest and lament and allow our minds to wander for a while are important right now. But that can’t be the only thing I do for the next few days/weeks.

Psalm 42 vividly portrays this tension. The psalmist laments, “My tears have been my food . . . My bones suffer mortal agony” (vv. 3, 10). There’s a heaviness, a weight to his words. I can imagine him slumping on his bed in his makeshift office/dining room/lecture hall as he writes. So with us, there’s a time to be still and not fight the weariness and heavy emotions we’re dealing with. Instead pour them out before Jesus.

But that’s not the only thing the psalmist does. In the midst of his struggle, he continues, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him . . . My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember [God]” (vv. 5–6). I get the sense that the psalmist’s posture of sitting in his grief leads him to a place where he then feels the need to rouse himself. It sounds like a pure act of willpower. Translated into our own minds, it might sound like: God is good. Remember God is good. I’m not feeling it, so tired, and on the news, they just—no, remember God is good.

So, too, do we sit in this tension. We need to process all the loss and pain we’re wrestling with, but we also need to encourage ourselves to remember who God is and that reality doesn’t equal our in-the-moment emotions (definitely something I need to work on as an Enneagram 4). This can be hard to do on your own. Ask the Lord for strength and reach out to friends in your chapter or family. Let them know you need encouragement.

Longing for More

How many times in the last year have you wanted to click your heels, say, “There’s no place like home,” and open your eyes to a nice, warm bed, where everything makes sense and feels safe? It’s been quite a few for me.

While this is a miserable feeling, Jesus has helped me realize that I long for the new heaven and earth a lot more than I did a year ago. I resonate with Romans 8 as “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (vv. 22–23).

I’m also convicted that instead of longing for the calendar year to be over, I should be longing for Jesus’ kingdom to come, in small ways in the here and now and ultimately in those last days Revelation 21 so richly describes.

Seeing the Bad, Seeing the Good

With just a short time left in 2020, I sense God inviting me to prayerfully look back over the year. I’d encourage you to join me:

  • Grab a journal or create a doc to write out your thoughts.
  • Come before Jesus, asking him to help you reflect.
  • Start processing this year. What moments have been really hard? You don’t need to try to sugarcoat things. Jesus already knows.
  • Then shift to what has gone right this year. What are you thankful for—especially as we get ready for Thanksgiving? If you can’t think of anything, ask the Lord to open your eyes to even small blessings. Have any of your relationships grown? Do you feel closer to God compared to a year ago?
  • After you fully process these things, let them go. It can be hard to do. I’m honestly still working through that and think it will take quite a bit of time. But as much as possible, I don’t want my negative perceptions of the past—assuming the future only holds rotten things because the past seemed to—blinding me from recognizing God’s blessings.

Instead of counting down the remaining days of 2020, I want to focus more on the present, like Psalm 118:24 says: “This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

This verse isn’t trying to pretend like everything in the world is perfect. Instead this verse is a conscious decision in the face of hardship, a decision sustained by the Lord’s Spirit and strength, rooted in faith that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Therefore, we choose to rejoice and be glad in God’s goodness to us—even in 2020!

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Nathan served as a writer for InterVarsity for five and a half years. He currently works for a ministry serving adults with disabilities. He enjoys writing and drawing and staying in shape.

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