2020 was a surprisingly rough year. It still is. How do you muster hope and confidence for a new year after one so tumultuous as this?
From discovering a new Coronavirus strain far away in Wuhan City, China, 12 months ago a global pandemic culminated in the simultaneous lockdown of more than 200 countries just six months later. The lockdowns confined people to their homes, shutting down schools, businesses and all social gatherings. Governments banned all travel, calling for a state of disaster, restricting countries under martial law. And now a second wave is in full swing.
The global pandemic pressure exposed the fault lines in vulnerable economies, politics, and social fibres worldwide. Newsfeeds flooded with reports of large-scale corruption, election rigging, racial tension and wild conspiracy theories. These compounding disruptions also highlighted the vulnerabilities in societies’ emotional-spiritual wellness, resulting in heightened anxieties, widespread domestic violence and unhealthy coping mechanisms. No-one escaped the sting of this pandemic.
At several moments during this year, I hoped for someone to call an end to the year, to reset the calendar and start afresh. I waited for some referee to recognize our fatigue, to throw in the towel or count us out. At long last, the year is over, but now the entrance into 2021 looks very similar to the exit of 2020. The difference is: (a) now we know what to expect, and (b) 2020 has had a significant physical, emotional and spiritual impact on each of us. For that reason, many of us face the new year with a sense of dread.
Why bother with the past ?
There is a need to properly wrap up the old year and bring meaning to a particular season before starting afresh. Failure to conclude a life chapter can cause one to get stuck in a destructive cycle. Trying to move on with unresolved disappointments, hurts, trauma or even blind spots and character flaws will likely cause one to live reactively to past events. The past will repeat itself like a bad nightmare. There has to be some resolve, some closure before your story can continue in a new chapter.
Biblical books at the end of seasons
It is noteworthy to consider that all the history books in the Bible – from Genesis to Ester in the OT and the Gospels to Acts in the NT – were recorded at critical moments in God’s people’s history. These records are not merely cold recordings of history. Each history book is a prophetic reinterpretation of the events God’s people went through, written to help make sense of God’s redemptive purposes through these periods. It aims to affirm the first readers’ identity and purpose as God’s covenant people. As such, each of these books is a means to “close a chapter” in a particular people’s history, giving God’s people resolve to move on, helping them understand why they had to endure this.
What is a life chapter?
Consider every memorable story, and you will conclude that hard times shaped the character and beautify his/her account. Samuel anointed David to be king, but many difficult chapters fill the years before becoming Israel’s beloved king. Yet his story is memorable because these middle chapters tell of familial rejection, battle with a giant, fleeing a vengeful monarch, harsh years in exile, uniting a divided Israel, and later attempted patricide and exile again, to name a few highlights. God’s journey with him through valleys of shadows of death makes his story beautiful and inspirational.
God promised Joseph prominence and power, and the fulfilment thereof was beyond his wildest imagination. His story brings encouragement 3800 years later because God’s promise prevailed despite familial betrayal, enslavement, wrongful imprisonment, and neglect of a companion. In particular, his story endures because he could look his brothers loving in the eyes and declare “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) That is why and how you close a life chapter: make sense of a season to affirm your identity and purpose in the light of God’s presence and providence.
A life chapter brings a conclusion to a season characterized in some unique way. Some chapters close naturally, like when you progress from primary school to high school or graduate from college or end an internship. Other life chapters might require help to resolve, due to an unfair dismissal from work, an abrupt end to a long relationship, or a sudden relocating with the family. Especially after a season of hardship, we struggle to move on because these tend to impact us emotionally and spiritually – leaving lasting scars on our identity (affecting our self-view), relationships and confidence (impacting our purpose and potential). Such seasons have the power to hold us back or alter the course of our lives – for the good or the bad. As such, reflection and resolve is paramount. Closing life chapters means making memories and finding meaning in it. Our challenge is to do a personal, prophetic reinterpretation of our experience to discern God’s presence and work in, through and for us. In particular, it affirms our identity, reforms our relationships and refines our purpose in life.
How do we properly close life chapters?
We say that “experience makes us wiser.” But observation tells us that this is not true. Experience often leaves us poorer, tired, hurt, or lonely. If we’re lucky, experience leaves us happy, enriched or loved. We tend to repeat past mistakes, suffering the same painful results – unless we intentionally reflect and learn from our experience. A more accurate statement reads, “evaluated experience makes us wiser.”
In her book Rooted in Love Margaret Blackie sketches her life as a plant rooted in rich soil. The plant symbolizes her life, flourishing. The roots seek security and nourishment in the fertile soil. The ground, enriched by the processed plant matter, represents reflected past experiences. Together, this image powerfully portrays how our lives flourish when anchored and nourished by our awareness of God’s presence and purpose with our everyday lives. Therefore, closing a life chapter aims to root us securely in the rich soil of the previous season, ready to bloom in the next season.
We close the chapter on 2020 by making a memory and find its meaning in the light of our life’s trajectory as a whole. First, we look back to review the highs and lows of the year. Second, we look up to recognize and give thanks for God’s goodness in the past season. Third, we reflect on the losses, hurts and disappointments by look inward; we own our share in the pain and release those who caused us harm. Lastly, we look forward as we revision the next leg our of our journey with hope. We will work through each of these points in subsequent blog posts.
So what do you expect to take with you out of 2020? You might be surprised at the insights and hopeful energy gained from such a reflection.