Last night we spent a beautiful, and possibly illegal, evening with friends reminiscing about the passing away of 2020 and the dawn of the new year.
Our host challenged each couple to take turns sharing what the greatest blessing of 2020 had been for them, which I suspect was a particularly countercultural exercise this year.
There are several couples in our community carrying such unspeakably heavy burdens that one would reflexively recoil in horror were such a cross presented to them. And yet each of them were able to express sincere gratitude to the Lord for His invitation into deeper suffering, for “the kiss of the cross,” as one of the husbands put it.
As we took turns giving thanks for the unexpected blessings of a year for the history books, we were able to look back at the last 12 months and see both incredible suffering and, truly, incredible fruit.
Yes, 2020 was a shit show. No, I don’t wish to repeat it and would not have suffered many of its “kisses” willingly, had I been given the choice.
But there has been such good, good fruit in our lives, and in my heart. And though we remain in the midst of global suffering and a civilization in crisis, we are not crushed by the impossible weight of it all, because we aren’t carrying it alone.
2020 will mark a turning point in all our lives, no doubt. But I wonder if it isn’t true that some of what we’ve turned away from, been stripped of, is ultimately for our greater good.
We learned to love our family with a more proper sense of gratitude and awe for what God has done for us and through us. We were invited to reject material security to a degree that would have plunged a younger version of me into paralyzing anxiety.
We were reminded that our health and our wealth and our very daily routines do not belong to us, ultimately. Have never belonged to us. Are only on loan, and are intended to be generously spent for the sake of others.
We learned that 24 hours, 72 hours, 100 straight days of no one to see and nowhere to go and nothing to do … didn’t kill us. That life was more than a secure job and a pleasant routine and a stimulating social life. That, actually, summer break needn’t feel like the zombie apocalypse because you’re “stuck at home” with your kids (God forgive me for ever eyeing the end of May with such dramatic foreboding).
We learned that despite sickness, depression, financial stress, and loneliness…the greatest suffering is to be separated from God. We learned to long for the Sacraments, to value them and our access to them as never before. That our churches really could close their doors overnight. And that it could happen again. And we learned that God would still be enough.
We learned to say a family rosary without drawing blood (but not necessarily without yelling.) We learned that social media was a joke, and relearned the freedom of life without a camera constantly in front of your face.
I learned that my kids are funny, frustrating, and adorable even if no one else sees them. Even if I document none of it.
I learned that the ultimate form of self care isn’t running, but rest. At least for now. I learned that childcare and a gym membership aren’t lifelines, but luxuries. That I really could run our home for days and weeks on end without a “break”. That God could fill my cup with quiet minutes stolen alone with Him, a cup of coffee, and Daniel Tiger’s hideous cadence providing the soundtrack to my meditation. That I wouldn’t actually die of anxiety, of sleep deprivation, or of overstimulation by continual human contact.
It’s much easier to jump on the dumpster fire bandwagon when it comes to assessing what we’ve all just walked through, what we’re still walking through. But even in darkness – perhaps especially in darkness – the Light is still visible.
My prayer for this new year, which I foster no rosy expectations for, is that no matter how dim the world grows, or how dark things seem, I may keep my face turned towards the light. That we all might. Because this present darkness will never succeed in extinguishing it.
A happy and blessed 2021 to everyone. May we remember that no matter what the new year brings, God is its author, and we have been chosen – hand selected – to enter into it.