It has been a year. For all of us.
We’ve had a lot of experiences over the last twelve months.
We baked bread. Binged watched tv shows. Learned a tik tok dance. Took a mask selfie. Rearranged furniture and made home improvements. Parents became homeschool teachers. We all got a crash course on this thing called Zoom. We worked from home. Neighbors bought blow up pools for the backyard. We hosted socially distanced hangouts in the garage. I ordered online groceries for the first time. We witnessed historic events and scientific achievements. We deeply felt the many waves of suffering and chaos that swept over the world. And we survived a global pandemic and national election with most of our sanity intact.
As we approach the new year, reflecting on all we endured can feel sobering and perhaps a little overwhelming. To many of us this year has felt like a desert season – one full of difficulty, isolation and strife. We are ready for it to end as soon as possible and for good reason.
But it was in this kind of wilderness that many of God’s people in the Bible experienced His presence and a deepening of their faith. In their suffering and weariness, they found renewal and strength. In the desert, Moses received his calling. The people of Israel saw God’s miraculous leading and provision. Elijah experienced the presence of the Living God. John the Baptist received the word of the Lord and turned people back to God. Jesus faced and overcame temptation.
“We often think of a desert or wilderness as something we want to get out of. But the Jewish people view the desert as the place where the Lord often meets His people and speaks to them. In the desert – the wilderness – God meets you and teaches you unique lessons that these dry and barren places frame in a way no other place would” (Kristi Mclelland).
When my desert season seems to drone on and on, I’m more likely to moan “How long, O Lord?” than to ask the Lord, “What do You want me to learn?” In my anxious haste for the hardship to be over, I miss out on the type of growth and intimacy with God that only the desert can provide.
As I pause to reflect this week, I realize that I learned a lot about myself over this year. I learned that health and personal safety are high on my priority list, perhaps a little too much. I learned that even when my world becomes small and slow, I still get stressed. And that my stress has more to do with my own mental health and coping strategies than it does my circumstances. I learned that friendships are vital to getting through tough days.
But most importantly, I learned more about Jesus – who he is, where he is and what he is doing in these dark and difficult times. That the real question is not whether God cares or is near, but whether or not I will turn to Him. When I’m weary and struggling, will I really come to Him? For He is always there, ready to offer mercy and grace, peace and strength.
I am learning this year that Jesus will never tire of my mess. He will never grow weary of my pain. He is not crushed or overwhelmed by my circumstances. He will not one day “have his fill” of me and all of my issues. I may avoid pain as much as humanly possible but Jesus does not. He is “the Living God who refuses to look away…who isn’t afraid to come down, get in the middle of the ruins of this world, and put His hands all over them to restore us. We run from drama. The Lord runs into it to bring rescue, restoration and renewal” (Mclelland).
This week, I will be entering the New Year differently than before. God has used the wilderness of this year to create a shift in me, one that will bring about healing, transformation and wholeness. As we begin again, this time I will enter the year a little more reflective. I will step into the New Year with more humility and less expectation. I will choose to trust God more and allow His process to have its way in me.
We may not know what this next year will bring, but we know that God goes before us and will be with us in whatever we face.
As we close out these grueling twelve months, may we take time to reflect before making resolutions. As we celebrate the end of 2020, may we value our time spent in the wilderness and carry the lessons we have learned into the New Year.
Questions for Reflection as you go into the New Year:
- What did you learn about yourself this year? What did you learn about your priorities, fears, and relationships?
- How do you respond to the wilderness seasons of life? What temptations have you faced in the desert this year?
- What have you learned about Jesus this year? What words did he convey to your heart?
- How can you carry these words and lessons with you as you head into a new year?