So…2020, huh? What a year! This time last year, I remember feeling so optimistic about the year ahead. People were looking forward to a great year, talking about having 20/20 vision and clarity in purpose and ideals. What we found in 2020 instead was the year of apocalypse. Australia was on fire. We faced the death of who many considered a basketball hero, Kobe Bryant, a global pandemic, racial tensions, riots, and political tensions. Friends and families were divided because of differing beliefs and opinions. In my area, an unprecedented amount of tropical storms and hurricanes battering the coast, two of which (Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta) decimated my hometown. We processed the shock of the death of our very own Black Panther superhero, Chadwick Boseman. Wildfires blazed in California and Oregon. We had vitriolic conflicts over masks and vaccines. And let’s not forget the election that wouldn’t end. That’s not to mention the emotional, physical, and spiritual blows that we have all encountered as individuals. I think that many people would say that the year 2020 has been an apocalyptic year. And I would agree, but only with an understanding of what apocalypse means.
The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word apokálypsis, meaning a revelation or an uncovering. The year 2020 revealed and uncovered a lot about our friends, neighbors, countries, churches, and ourselves. Some of the revelations were good and encouraging, some revelations were disappointing and even hurtful. And now as we enter 2021, we’re left trying to figure out what to do with these revelations. So I would like to submit to you some suggestions on where to go next.
Lead with Love.
Love is a complicated, overused word. We say we love people, but we also say that we love pizza. We use the word love when we don’t really mean it or don’t have the capability to act it out. But one very important thing to remember is this: love is an action word, not a feeling word. Leading with love means to first actively listen. I love the word in the Bible used for this- shema. Shema in the Bible means to do more than just have your ear and brain process the sounds that are coming into your ear. It means to do more than listen in order to respond. To Shema means to listen to what the other person is saying, internalize it and process it in your heart as well as your mind, and then act on it. You have to leave room for vulnerability to be able to Shema. You have to be willing to admit that you may be in error, or that there may not be one right or wrong answer. It requires compassion and empathy. Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, one of the most-used passages from the Bible about love. Love is patient, kind, it doesn’t envy or boast, and it isn’t proud. It doesn’t dishonor other people- it acknowledges that we are all made in God’s image. It’s not self-seeking, putting the things that will be to our own advantage first. It is not easily angered or keeps a record of wrongs done. It doesn’t delight in evil, which is to disregard the image of God in others. It rejoices with the truth, while acknowledging that sometimes our own perception of the truth can be clouded by our own mindsets or biases. It always protects others, always trusts that God is good and His will is good and perfect, always hopes for the good of all and for God’s will to be done, and always perseveres to bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth. We cannot love without first loving God, and then loving and having empathy for yourself. To lead with love is a lofty goal, and I think it takes a lifetime of growth and practice. The discipline of love requires faith, perseverance, and acting out of emotional abundance instead of emotional inadequacy. This is why love is so important--love requires emotional and spiritual health.
Know one thing for sure: that you don’t know everything.
We all love to be right. Although some people are better than others at admitting when they’re wrong, most (if not all) of us really hate to BE wrong. Why is that? I feel like on some subconscious level, being wrong means lacking something--not being enough of this or that, or not having enough of this or that. But what if we looked at being wrong as an opportunity to grow and become wiser? To gain knowledge and understanding? None of us can fully understand the totality of the human experience. There are going to be things that you don’t understand because you haven’t lived those experiences. And that’s ok. Be O.K. with not knowing everything. Be O.K. with not understanding. Be O.K. with not having all the answers. Admit that you don’t know or understand, and then seek to understand. That is wisdom--not already knowing, but continually seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding and then applying what you have learned in the context of your life.
Think about the Fruit of the Spirit.
The Fruit of the Spirit exhibits the traits that flourish as we grow spiritually and emotionally and work toward our potential and purpose as images of God. So, let’s talk about what these traits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are not traits that we as human beings all naturally, inherently possess. The key word here is fruit. We exhibit those traits as a result of our relationship with and communion with the Holy Spirit. Those traits are the fruit of the existing relationship. This means that as we live our lives and move forward, our relationship with the Holy Spirit and the beautiful traits that result from that relationship is crucial. For us to recover from the apocalypse of 2020, we must maintain and strive for peace. Not by being peacekeepers, but by being peacemakers. Peacekeepers avoid difficult discussions or silence others in order to maintain what Martin Luther King Jr. calls a negative peace, which is merely the absence of tension, and not true peace. Peacemakers have difficult conversations and hold that tension, seeking to create true peace by exploring truth and understanding together. We must practice patience and kindness. We seek to cultivate joy in our lives in order to not allow our bitterness to color our interaction with others. We must manifest goodness, which is a deliberate preference of right over wrong, a desire to do good to others, charity, mercy, compassion, and giving someone favor that they don’t deserve. We must have faith in God and his plan and also be trustworthy in following His will. We must be gentle with each other--being tender with each other and not seeking to elevate ourselves by pushing someone else down. And finally, we must be able to exhibit self-control. The words we speak reveal the condition of our hearts. We’ve done a lot of damage this year by our lack of self-control.
Don’t assume the worst- even though that can be hard!
It can be very easy to make assumptions about people and want to write them off. We all do it. But that’s not what we’re called to do. We can’t find agreement if we make assumptions about who a person is. Now, this deserves a caveat. Not making assumptions does not mean ignoring reality. Human beings can have destructive, hurtful, self-centered, self-righteous, and judgmental opinions. But notice I said human beings, which means we all can think that way. It’s part of the human condition. Part of our journey is striving to grow out of those tendencies. We have to hold that tension of not making assumptions while dealing with who a person has shown themselves to be.
Think Micah 6:8
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible! It is everything! Remember when we talked about the Fruit of the Spirit earlier in this post, and about goodness. Well, in Micah 6:8, God tells us exactly what goodness is. “He has shown you, oh mortal, what is good. And what does your Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We see variations of this throughout the Bible. There are two types of justice. One is retributive justice, which is when a person is punished for doing wrong. I think that for the most part, this is the type of justice that people like to see. We want the bad guy to get caught and suffer the consequences of his actions. Isn’t that what being a hero or a superhero is about--bringing justice to those that do wrong? However, the type of justice mentioned most often in the Bible is restorative justice, where people who are wronged or unrightfully hurt are given back what was taken from them. Justice is done when the wrongs have been righted and losses are restored. I think these losses can be physical, spiritual, and emotional. Justice is served when relationships are restored by making people whole again. Mercy is showing compassion or forgiveness to someone, even if they don’t deserve it. It involves the consideration and needs of others. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “In both Old Testament and New Testament (edited from the original quote), mercy is an action taken by the strong towards the weak, the rich towards the poor, the insider towards the outsider, those who have towards those who have not.” And to walk humbly with God means not to think too highly of yourself. Not only that, but it requires submission to God, and having an accurate estimation of your worth. A humble person does not look down on others. A humble person values others above themselves. Humility places the interests of others above their own interests.
To me, 2020 is the year that made it clear to us that control is an illusion. The circumstances and cornerstones that we thought were so sure and solid were found to be changeable. And there was nothing we could do about it. People got sick and died. People lost their jobs. Some questioned their faith. Some who thought that issues like racism were in the past realized that was an illusion. Some began to question friendships and relationships because of what we saw someone post on social media or express verbally or in writing. We were surprised by people- in good ways and bad. 2020 became the year of clear vision, but also disillusionment.
We have faced pain and devastation, to be sure. Some of that pain and devastation came from things that were out of our control. But a lot of the pain and disappointment of 2020 was caused by the ways that we treated and spoke to each other. We have done considerable damage, and The Church, unfortunately, has had a large part in that, even before 2020. The division that we witnessed this year was always there, the apocalypse just revealed it. But the apocalypse also gives us the opportunity to still gain clearer vision and clarity.
There is hope! In therapy, apocalypse, or revelation, gives us an opportunity to confront our pain and heal from it. Pain can’t be healed unless it has first been acknowledged. The apocalypse has given us an opportunity to heal. But, just like in therapy, it’s up to us and us alone to seize that opportunity and do the learning and work necessary to heal and grow. It’s not easy, but I think it’s worth it. We each have a choice. What do you think yours will be?