Last year, everyone was celebrating to see the end of 2020. Surely 2021 couldn’t be as bad, they said… and on some level it wasn’t. But there are other metrics by which it was certainly worse. All that said, I never cared much for the running joke that 2020 was such an awful year (any more than I would say about ’21). I understand the sentiment, obviously, but I think it’s overwrought, ungrateful, and silly.
To begin with, much of the trouble with 2020 was self-inflicted – unnecessary fear and outrage and exaggeration. That’s not to detract from real tragedy; many loved ones were lost in the outbreak of the virus (though technically fewer than 2021). But making a bad problem worse is never the answer. The death toll in our country (and presumably everywhere else) rose significantly, but not astronomically; the threat of death was real, but not for everyone. It’s important to keep things in perspective, but much of our society failed to do so. In times of trouble, we should come together in courage; but for all of the posturing and the rhetoric, many of us fell apart – both as a nation and as individuals. In a lot of ways, it broke us.
I know it’s not popular to say this, but it was never as bad as it was made it out to be. It was bad; but we’ve seen worse. Nothing about it was “unprecedented” (aside from our reaction). I’m not trying to be political or insensitive; certainly, for some families, it was a travesty. But here’s the thing: for somebody, that was true of 2019. It was true in 2018 and 2017 and every year going back forever. Of course, it may sometimes be true of more people than others; that can make things seem worse for an unprepared civilization. But even low points aren’t unheard of. There were particularly bad years in the 20th century too, as well as the 19th, 18th, and every century before.
This was one (maybe two) of our bad years. But even those of us among the hardest hit should count our blessings. The Black Plague of the Middle Ages killed maybe a third of the population. If we had just come through that, we would’ve considered the last two years a great blessing, even a return to normalcy. I know that doesn’t make things better for the grieving, and it doesn’t bring back those we’ve lost. I know it’s easier to say for those of us who didn’t say goodbye to our closest friends and relatives (which admittedly, I did not). But it doesn’t make it any less true. Death used to be far more common, and we’re fortunate to live in a time when half our children don’t die before reaching adulthood (as used to be the case).
To be fair, we should remember that all tragedies hit differently. In one sense, disease is far less tragic than a terrorist attack, as it can be considered a natural cause of death. In another sense, widespread disease is more tragic because so many people suffer together. In yet another sense, war is more tragic than either, because it takes the worst of both – but at least there’s a cause to be proud of. In still another sense, losing someone to a senseless accident is worst of all, because it lacks any purpose or sacrifice or hope of justice. So don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying “get over it.” My point is to show how little thought we put into most of our complaints – even humorous ones that try to make the best of a bad situation. When we say that 2020 was the worst thing ever, we’re either very ignorant (if we mean “worst in history”) or otherwise very fortunate (if we mean “worst in our lives”).
So maybe 2022 won’t be as bad as 2020 or 2021. But then again, it may be worse. For some of us, it certainly will. I know that’s not a very uplifting message, but it’s true. And the best new year’s resolution we can make is to keep this in mind going forward. I have reason to believe that 2022 will be a tough and challenging year for me personally. I have other reasons – faith, at least – to believe it will be much better. In either case, I can’t let it distract me from what’s important. Next week or next month, things may take a turn for the worst, and I may have no idea what to do or where to turn. If I go into the new year expecting sunshine and roses, I’ll probably be disappointed. But that doesn’t mean I should feel hopeless. My hope is not – or should not be – in my job or my health or my nation or even my family. My hope is in God – more specifically, in the salvation I have through Jesus Christ. I can still have hope in that even when things seem bleak.
I don’t really make new year’s resolutions; I think they’re often a waste of time. If I can’t find the determination to do something already, I doubt a new calendar is going to inspire me. But I do try to use the opportunity to reexamine my priorities and correct course as needed. I sometimes set goals for myself – not at the New Year, but whenever I find the will power – and occasionally postpone the “start date” until January because it’s easier to keep track of things. But I try not to get into the habit of saying, “This year I’ll do such and such” because I know I’ll lose interest or give up once I fail to meet my own demands. That doesn’t I think resolutions are bad; it just means we should make them year-round and actually keep them. Saving them all for the new year is both an excuse and a recipe for failure.
But it’s important to note that we should live our lives for God the same way (and again, I’m preaching to myself here). When I call myself a Christian, it means that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Everyone likes the “Savior” part – the part where he died to give us life and liberty from sin – but not the “Lord” part, which requires us to submit to Him as God. I accept both, but I should be doing more than simply saying I serve him; I should be doing it. If I put off my obedience or submission until something comes along or works out for me, I’m doing exactly the same thing that we do with new year’s resolutions: I’m pretending that some arbitrary point in the future will give me the strength and means to keep my word. It’s nonsense. If I promise to be faithful when things get easier, it means I’ll never learn to be faithful at all. Faithfulness – like resolution – involves making up our minds when we don’t want to, sticking it out when things are tough. The best way to improve ourselves, spiritually or otherwise, is to stop making excuses and simply do it.
Resolution means “a firm determination to do something.” I can’t say I have as much determination as I would like, but it’s something I’m continually working on. The new year doesn’t change that. It doesn’t make it easier or better or more real. But it’s a good time to remind myself and others that real resolution lasts all year; it comes from the heart, not from the calendar; and it isn’t beholden to circumstance – however miserable and bleak they might be. Regardless of what the new year brings, I’m resolved to hopefully be a better man and a better Christian.
Happy New Year… or so we hope.