2020 was a hard year for everyone. I think we can all agree on that point!
But for some, it was especially hard. People lost jobs; had their businesses destroyed by over-zealous, draconian lawmakers under the guise of “health and safety;” and lost loved ones as a result of COVID, whether directly from the disease itself or (more often) indirectly as a result of suicide or not seeking medical care out of fear of the disease.
Yes, it was a rough year.
So, I certainly recognize that I have little to complain about! My husband still has a job working from home; we’ve weathered the quarantines well, as we’ve always lived somewhat “hermit” lives with few extracurricular activities and lots of time doing life together at home; and we have been healthy and not seen any loved ones die from COVID-related complications.
In many ways, life in 2020 continued on as normal (minus a few irritating moments when Costco employees or patrons tried to force me to wear a mask, which I will not do for health reasons…but that’s another story altogether.)
But despite the positives, I can’t help but feel disappointed and sad about some of the truly difficult parts of the past year. There was plenty of heartache.
A Handful of Trials
- A dear friend of mine lost her long battle with ovarian cancer at the beginning of December.
- My husband still struggles with chronic Lyme disease and was not well enough to go to church at all in 2020.
- My older kids went through some difficult relational trials (one child was severely affected health-wise from the stress).
- I’ve watched friends (and supposed friends) marriages split up and kids put in the middle.
- And, to top it all off, we endured two church splits (without much of my husband’s involvement, due to his health).
Yes, two. And pretty much at the same time, since we were attending one regularly while still members at the other.
Let me just tell you, one church split is bad enough. Two is even worse. But going through them alone without your husband’s full wisdom and input is brutal!
This is not a post to recount the woes, though! Listing out those negatives actually brings me down a little. “Count your many trials, name them one-by-one…” 😉 I’m not staying there!
No, we are grateful.
And, since I believe one of the best things we can do is learn from our trials in the hopes of growing spiritually, what I want to share with you today is what the Lord has taught us through the tumultuous 2020 year. This was my lifeschooling!
A Million Lessons (give or take)
It’s more important what God thinks of you than what man thinks of you.
I have come a long way since my Junior High days when I was constantly looking to see what others were wearing, saying, and doing so I could fit in. When you marry a Greek, you learn to be confident in who you are and say what you think. 😉 But that is not always easy, especially when you really care about those who think badly of you for taking an opposite stand on a particular issue.
I have lost some friendships and seen others distanced, and there is almost not a day that goes by when I don’t think of those people, pray for them, and go though another “here-we-go-again” process of self-doubt and spiritual battle with the enemy’s lies. Thankfully, God’s peace is always right there and He is continually faithful to remind me of why I had to take the actions I did in the various situations.
We can’t live the Christian life perfectly.
Along those lines, I have learned that this life-long perfectionist cannot live a perfect Christian life! I am 100% reliant on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and even then, I sometimes fail to hear Him perfectly. Yes, that is on me, but God will reward me for my heart to follow His Word and please Him, not for my perfect performance. It is my job to be faithful to the best of my ability, and to remember that I must trust in Christ alone for everything and that His grace is sufficient! I am so thankful for that grace that I know I don’t deserve.
Accountability is crucial.
I have seen what happens when people are not involved in relationships with true accountability. We all prefer “yes men” to tell us what we want to hear and to go along with our ideas and plans. But that is not wise. We are not all-knowing and we easily miss blind spots and overlook our own faults. I have seen what happens when character flaws are allowed to go unchecked until they become so much a part of who a person is that they are nearly impossible for that person or those closest to him/her to recognize.
I want to be more accountable and humble to admit my wrong when it’s pointed out. I want to be okay with messing up and ready to repent and move forward when I do.
Submission is tricky and we need to make sure we’re doing it biblically.
“We must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” Romans 13:1.
I have seen people submit when they shouldn’t, leading to an abuse of authority and unchecked sin in the authority figure’s life, and I have seen others rebel when they shouldn’t, leading to broken relationships and drastic and unexpected effects on many lives. It has made me very aware of the need to always be sure I am submitting in a Biblical way, and not confusing submission with silence. There are times when we need to speak to our husbands, pastors, and even governing authorities about sin and be prepared to “obey God rather than man.”
At other times, when sin is not evident or we are confused about the details about a particular situation, we need to gather as much information as we can and trust our God-given authority figures and turn to the Lord in prayer, knowing that He will bless us for obeying and He will make any foggy paths clear. When in doubt, I want to err on the side of submission for as long as possible. But we all must be careful and extremely prayerful!
Our actions have far-reaching and sometimes unexpected consequences.
I have been surprised by how the actions of others have impacted people in unexpected ways. I have been reminded that my Christian walk is not lived in a vacuum. It is not just important for my own spiritual relationship with God, but it also has a direct effect on those within my Christian community. Decisions that I may think only affect me and those directly around me can have far-reaching implications and influence not only on the body of Christ, but also on non-believers. After all, “they will know us by our love one for another.”
Those who live in community-driven cultures, such as Asian cultures, understand this better than we here in our independent Western culture do. It is one of the pitfalls of our self-reliant attitude. When we make decisions, we should more carefully consider how it will impact all those in our various communities, and those communities seem even bigger in today’s world of the internet.
God is far more patient and long-suffering than we are.
I have been astounded by God’s grace and patience in many situations this year, particularly in the church-related situations! Sometimes I wonder why He allows injustice and wrong to go seemingly unpunished, even for years, but I am comforted by His love that is so patient! He truly “desires mercy over judgement,” even when people’s sinful actions cause continual hurt. He gives every last possible opportunity for us to do what is right and turn back to Him in repentance.
This recognition has been a conviction to me, even as these same people have hurt and rejected me! Do I love them enough to patiently wait on the Lord to do what He sees is best in their lives and the lives of others who are hurt? Can I forgive them for the hurt they have caused so many? If I were in their shoes, how much I would need God’s patience! If I eventually repented, I would be so grateful that He had been so long-suffering with me! I myself have experienced His amazing patience and long-suffering in my life before, and I would not be here if I had gotten what I deserved.
There is always hope.
The fact that God does not immediately judge sinners and condemn them gives me hope! God is giving time for true heart changes to take place and this encourages me. It’s not over! Rather than dwell on the pain that this reality brings, I will choose to dwell on the hope that it implies!
Even when God brings pain into the lives of those doing wrong and those affected by their wrongdoing, He is using it to purify His church and make us all more like Christ. As the saying goes, “He never wastes a hurt.” But we have to have spiritual eyes to be able to see that sometimes. We have to learn to look past our own misery into the invisible spiritual realm where the “stuff of eternity” is.
Unity in Christ does not depend on perfect doctrine or theology
As we have drifted slowly out of one denomination and into another (it’s been a process of re-evaluation and learning), I have come to recognize that unity in Christ is not based on having everything “right.” None of us ever will! God works in every denomination that holds fast to the “essentials” and seeks to follow Scripture and please Him. From Baptist to Presbyterian to Pentecostal and everything in between, these are my brothers and sisters who love the Lord. The Bible says that the world will know us “by our love one for another,” and that is not dependent on theology.
The Holy Spirit’s guidance is crucial
The Bible says that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). It was the Holy Spirit who spoke to us so clearly before any of the church situations unfolded. We no longer felt His presence at our old church, and we were in a desperate situation as our daughter was going through severe spiritual oppression (you can read her full story here). Not only did we start going to another church, but this church was Pentecostal, which was definitely a departure from our Reformed church! I remember a concerned phone call from one church member, as well as a general feeling that I was doing something wrong.
But the more I dug into Scripture and challenged my long-held assumptions, the more I fasted and prayed, and the more I saw the positive changes in our family, the more I just didn’t care what anyone thought. We had to follow the Lord where He was leading, no matter how uncomfortable! And it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
So, as we reflect on 2020 and look forward to 2021, I pray that some of these lessons I’ve learned will help you in your own difficult trials. And I would love to hear what the Lord has taught you in 2020!
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation,” Isaiah 12:2