A Soul-Healthy Way to Actually Move Forward From 2020

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I heard her as I passed by in the store, my soul cringed:

I hate 2020. I just can’t wait for this year to be over, I’m so ready to move on!

I know full well what she meant, so much of this year has been exhausting in its sustained fever of grief, tension and loss.

I have personally hit walls of frustration and doubt this year that could rival an Athiest’s bitter rant. No question about it, we had the juice squeezed out of us collectively this year. For me it has revealed places I’ve grown, but plenty where I’m still so weak.

A real moment in the midst of virtual school, isolation day after day, constant hand sanitizing, toilet paper rationing, mask management and news updates of people we love suffering.

I was certainly not judging the woman for complaining. Like so many people I have heard lamenting, including myself, she was just a weary and honest woman expressing her frustration with our global trials (plus whatever else she’s weathered in her own fenced-in life).

The cringe in my soul instead came from somewhere deeper. An alarm seemed to be going off in me signaling a warning against a certain way of seeing life and the struggles we face.

As I paid closer attention to the flare going off in my heart, I found the danger to be two-fold.

For one, whether she was aware of it or not, she was rejecting her life in 2020 in its entirety (365 days of her breath) as something to be hated. As far as she could see there was nothing to salvage for honor and keeping.

Secondly, but perhaps more concerning, she was placing “all her eggs” of happiness in the basket of 2021.

Gulp.

Her relief from present pain rested solely on her expectation that better times are waiting for her in the new year, as if magically suffering will cease at midnight on New Year’s Eve — like the ding of the oven announcing the cookies are ready.

The two-fold problem I felt caution around involved how we choose to remember 2020, and look ahead at 2021, because how we remember the past can effect how well we move into our future.

Looking back well…

To say this year has been full of challenges would be an absurd understatement. But rather than kick it to the curb in disdain hoping to never feel it’s presence again, consider how we hold other memories of pain we’ve endured. Holidays in remembrance of what others bravely did for us, anniversaries of loss that help us feel connected again to their stories in ours, memorials that echo stories of goodness, triumphs and meaning. Even wreaths can be found along roadsides to honor the precious lives that physically ended there.

We honor places where we grieve loss because it honors our pain, and the life that filled that place. These ceremonies dignify our existence, our love, and they also help us begin to move forward again.

But how do you honor a year or season filled with so much loss, tension, turmoil and grief? How do we hold time and sift it so we remember the life in it that was good, too? How do we visit 2020 in a softer way that ultimately helps us heal and remember well what our souls have endured together?

You may already have a system for doing this very thing. Maybe you hold a celebration for the goodness that passed over you, or you record it in a journal or photo album of some kind. We do these things too. But there is another tool I’ve come to appreciate, one that I started to use years ago.

If you’ve read anything from me before, you know most of the story I’m about to share. In order to serve any new readers though, I’ll offer this brief summary of one story in our marriage to highlight the tool that helps me sift miserable seasons well. I’ll add this too, that remembering God’s presence with us and provision for us in past seasons of loss is itself a healthy tool for stirring up hope for the future!

That other year filled with loss…

In 2012 we found out we were officially in the “unexplained infertility” community and went from expecting to fill a nursery to filling prescriptions for hormone treatments. Instead of preparing for a newborn we prepared for a surgery. Nothing was going according to our plans and what we had “hoped for” felt like it was lost forever. 

For years, with every cycle, I put my hope for a good life in seeing a tiny plus sign on a little white stick. (We’ll talk more about this hope thing later…)

The 12 months of 2012 delivered 12 months of disappointment, heartache and disorienting sorrow. I hated much in that year and longed to move on to a new one.

It was too soon for me to weigh 2012 in the midst of it — to sift the good from the rubble of suffering. A little later though, and especially as I began writing again, I was able to hold our infertility journey with fresh perspective. I had walked alongside other women experiencing this grief, and discovered gifts we had received in our pain. What I found in my reflection over our losses was a new appreciation for what 2012 held for us.

Yes, we endured great losses.

We lost dreams of bearing children, of experiencing pregnancy and childbirth, of sharing our good news with others. We lost privacy, we lost joy in the celebration of others’ joys for a season, and we lost other dreams because we were spending time, resources and energy in treatments or recovering from surgery.

Yes, we felt disoriented and were tempted to despair many times.

But too, we found God with us every aching step of the way.

We found wisdom to know when to take new paths.

We found rich relationships with others who could share our grief.

We found joy in becoming more like Jesus, and felt closer to Him, in our sufferings.

We also found favor in adoption, and the priceless jewel of our beloved little girl.

It sounds like I’m describing a cosmic Lost & Found — as if when we lose what we love here, whether it be people, fish or dreams, we don’t have to just lose them — we can lose them to Him with the hope that He holds them in love and lets us find Him in the ways we need Him most. Well in a sense, this is exactly what I’m describing, but it’s not an idea original to me:

For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find it [that is, life with Me for all eternity].

Matthew 16:25, AMP

Do you see Matthew’s accounting skills as a tax collector at work here in this passage, taking note of losses and net gains? He gives us an insight into a way of seeing loss I didn’t noticed before we felt ours. We can either lose through death, or lose through faith. We can lose something we were clinging to for hope, and with that loss lose all our hope; or, we can lose something to God believing by faith that He is holding our life and grief with a loving purpose in mind, and that in surrender we will find His life move yet in ours.

This tool of Lost & Found helps me dignify and name the losses we’ve endured, because they mattered. My pain mattered, and matters still to God with us. But then with His help I can also notice what is good there, too. I can find His life in mine, filling me. I can later visit the losses without being overwhelmed by them because I have found God with me, for me, even in surprising and deeply meaningful ways. What is found does not replace what is lost, this is not about replacement. To try and “bright side” our grief with “but look at the blessings” before we honor our losses will delay growth at best, and could even cause more damage at worst. Instead, the goal of Lost & Found is about restoration. It helps us count the losses and find God with us, loving and moving still. This is about healing so we can move forward with our souls ready to hope well, dream big and rest with trust again in the God who never leaves us.

When we lose what we love to God, we can find all we need in God.

With God all things are being made new, and while I don’t really understand what this means entirely, I know this: all means all, not some. (Revelation 21:5)

In my book A Mother of Thousands, I dedicated an entire chapter to this game-changing truth, titled: “Where Dreams Go When They Die”. When my womb seemed to say we couldn’t bear life, my dream of birthing children essentially died. One day while I was considering the death of loved ones, and the hope I have of them being made new with Jesus, I thought of our dreams. I have had a handful of dreams that have been beautiful and good and in line with the desires of God’s heart, that have essentially died in my life. I wondered, where do they go? What did they matter in this whole big story? Why did I even have them in the first place if they weren’t going to breathe air here?

I was overwhelmed with hope at God’s answer, by the way. I’m not going to rehash it all here, it’s all there in that chapter, but what I will say here is that hope is found when we trace steps back to the Resurrection. When Jesus rose again from the dead, hope was born for all of us who feel the sting of death in this life — whether it is of loved ones, of our own bodies, or even of our dreams.

Nothing dies forever with Jesus. Truly, all means all — and He promises He is making all things new.

A new year will hold some of the new things He is making, but so does 2020 yet. Life can and does come from dead things, hope is not entirely lost ever with Jesus.

What does this mean for us as we consider 2020, or any miserable season? What do we do with all of this when we look back over the months and losses? How can we do this in a soul-friendly way?

We can ask God to help us find Him in it…so we can better see Him in our future, too.

What have you found of God in 2020? What was something, anything good you saw, witnessed, felt, experienced, learned, discovered?

Did you feel any consolation at any time during the year by anyone in any way? A kind word or gesture that filled your heart with goodness?

The enemy of our souls would have us experiencing nothing good, absolutely nothing ever. If God didn’t extend mercy to us, we would be annihilated completely.

It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed,
Because His [tender] compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great and beyond measure is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23, AMP

How have you experienced God’s mercy sparing you from total emotional, physical, relational, and material loss this year?

Name it, maybe write it down (this could be such a gift for your soul!), and respond to God around it.

I’ll never suggest trying something I haven’t done, or I’m not currently doing myself. I’ve done this for 2020. I have held a good number of our losses including an Aunt, an employee and a long-time client/friend (you can read about some of the others here in my Christmas Eve Eve blog post where I also share our home renovation). I’ve asked God to show me where He is with me in these losses, and for resurrection — for hope. He has met me already in the waiting, but I’m hopeful for more to come. I’m also naming what I have found, in the losses, with God. I’m naming what is found, because while loss creates an empty hole, it can ultimately become space for God to move.

David, King of Israel, in one of his darkest laments over losses buoyed his soul with hope when he found God with him there:

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13, NKJV

This means no matter how bad life feels (considering seasons in human history long before 2020 with its floods, earthquakes, holocausts and fallouts, we know it can feel incredibly bad) we can safely still hang our hope on finding God with us.

This is what Christmas pronounces for us who feel weary, remember just last week we celebrated Him:

Immanuel — Hebrew for “God is with us”

God is with us.

Here.

Now.

In 2020, in 2021 and always, with us.

We desperately need to remember this because you know what else will be with us in 2021? Loss.

Loss is with us, too.

Loss is not final, though, and this is what can get confusing in grief.

Loss has an end. Jesus promises a resurrection.

Now let’s use this tool I call Lost & Found as we consider looking forward well.

Looking forward well…

While I certainly “hope” stretches of better days are ahead in 2021, for that lady in the store and for all our sakes, we have learned that hanging our hope (our expectation of goodness) on the hook of living an easier life here on this Earth, or getting things our way any year, only sets us up for more heartache and disappointment when hard times inevitably come.

Suffering is not going to obey CDC guidelines, hard times will not stay within the tidy confines of 2020.

I cannot control what breaks tomorrow, what leaders choose to do, how people live their lives and bump into mine. I cannot even control how I will feel about it, nor do I know exactly what that will be until I get there. I cannot control what happens in 2021 any better than I could in 2020. If my hope — my expectation of something good — is only tied to circumstances, a “new” whatever with people I have zero control over, my soul will know it. My body gives me away as anxiety shows up in nail-biting, overeating, nightmares, shallow breathing, tuning out when my life invites me to tune in, and so on. Our souls know where we are putting our hope, and they tell our bodies and soon the charade is up.

Hope misplaced is really nothing more than a gamble.

And I don’t know about you, but gambling — especially if it’s for my life — stresses me out.

I believe one of the reasons we are a stressed out people is not because we lack hope, but because we suffer from ill-placed hope.

Putting our trust in the turning of a calendar to make our lives all of a sudden feel better is a trap. Also, holding off our heart’s hope until the future becomes our present starves our souls today. The wisest human to ever live put it this way:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12, NIV

A “hope deferred” is when the good we expect to come is drawn out for a very, very long time. Like a year. This agonizing delay can cause us to feel disappointment and even a depression in our body and spirit.

Don’t we know it!

The good news is God knows it too.

Waiting for good to come in some distant tomorrow leaves us with hearts longing today, and God has offered us something better.

God wants us to hope, He wants our hope to flourish like a “tree of life” to use Solomon’s words above, and He has a safe place for it where it will not be disappointed.

Because we are the Hopers…

We’ll talk about hopelessness before we finish here, but ill-placed hope is what I heard expressed in the store, and is what tempts me often.

But let’s talk about you! What are you hoping in, today? This New Years? Can you name it? Let’s take a moment to give it a try. You don’t have to say it out loud, not yet.

We put our hope in the next (you name it) all the time, often without even realizing:

We hope in the next sale…

Hope in the next relationship…

Hope in the next home…

Hope in the next election…

Hope in the next fertility treatment…

Anyone ever put their hope in the next diet?

Yes, I see that hand!

Wait, that’s mine.

You get the idea.

We keep hoping because it’s what we do. Actually, it’s who we are. We are the hope-bearers — created in the image of the God of all hope!

We cannot help ourselves, we just keeping hoping for good because our souls know deep down: good is out there.

But our hope was never designed to hang well on an easy life without struggles. Instead, our hope is made to hang on the sure thing of God’s character alone — which is unfailing in kindness, joy, love, patience, peace, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness…and goodness. In fact, He referred to Himself as goodness when He spoke to Moses:

I will make all My goodness pass before you…

Exodus 33:19, NKJV

David’s hope expressed in Psalm 27:13 was not rooted in times getting easier for him, which was a wise thing considering the challenges he was facing. His hope was in God’s character as good, and present with him here in this land of the living.

God with us means Goodness is with us, even when we feel like we are losing heart.

Putting our hope in God always being with us doesn’t make life “easy” all of a sudden, but it does make our souls rest with hope for good to still be with us even in our struggles.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33, ESV

Evil is not the only presence we will feel in our tribulations because Jesus overcame evil. Joy is here with us now, even in trials. Gentleness is closer than our next breath now, even in our tests. Peace can wash over us now, even in turmoil.

Practicing Lost & Found revealed what had been missing in my hope for the future. In that season of loss we had somehow not given up our hope of parenting children someday — again, I think this is because we are the hopers, the hope-bearers, who can hope with God even against all hope.

What we found though, in our hope, was that our hope was only secure if we hung it on the solid hook of God’s faithfulness to be with us no matter what we faced.

We found hope secure when our hope is that:

No matter how dark things get, He is Light-with-us.

No matter how bad we feel, He will be Good-with-us.

No matter how starved we felt, He is Bread-for-us.

No matter how hopeless things look, the God of Hope will always stay close.

Moving Forward Well…

John Eldredge talked about hope in a recent episode on his podcast called Restoring the Heart, (episodes titled, “The Fight for Hope” — a 2 part series I recommend in its entirety). In it he addresses what feels like (and I agree with him that it feels like it because it is) a war against our hope. I shared about the problem of ill-placed hope earlier, but there is certainly a real struggle for our generation with desolation, hopelessness, and even what John calls “barrenness” which I have used as a term here in this little writing house often. I am especially stirred by this declaration he encourages us to make for our own lives as we move forward:

I reject hopelessness.

I reject desolation.

I reject barrenness.

I choose God!

I choose belief!

I choose hope!

I put my hope in God!

I can actually feel hope (an expectation of goodness) rising at the realization that with God I can reject something, even hopelessness itself. I can on purpose expect goodness when I expect God will be with me today, tomorrow and in 2021. No matter what I lose, no matter what dream fizzles or goes up in flames, God is with me in it, goodness is with me in it, and resurrection will come in some way for all that we lose to God. While I may not ever bear children physically in this life, I have all the hope in God to bear life in me a thousand ways. My hope is not based on something floppy, like fertility. My hope is attached to something forever faithful — to a God who comes for us, lives with us, feels our feelings and heals our wounds, who dies for us, rose before us and will return for us again soon.

So we have some choices to make, as we move forward. We can choose to close the year and lock it behind us, with hearts, eyes and hope resting square on days ahead only. Or, we can collect our losses and hold them with God, asking Him to show us what — and Who — we can find, here. Where has He been in 2020, and in other seasons of loss with us? We can ask Him to resurrect dead dreams, or give us new ones — because He loves doing new things that bring us great joy. We can ask Him to bring deep peace here, in deep pain, so we don’t have to hope in some future for it but can feel His withness even now.

And we can place our hope. Well-placed hope is found in Christ alone, all other ground — 2021, governments, bank accounts, adoptions going through, fertility, having toilet paper in supply, vaccines — is sinking sand.

So let’s move on with our choices, and our hope set, friends.

Let’s watch like David, confident we will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”.

Happy New Year friends, may you find all your soul has truly been hoping for in the days ahead!

In our losses God finds us and invites us to find Him, with us.

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