I think we can all agree that 2020 was not the year that we saw coming.
I remember the New Year celebrations – our eyes were bright with hope and expectation for the year ahead, and the start of a new decade full of possibility.
The year had barely started when the rumblings began, with hushed conversations about this mystery virus. As countries around the world started to get their first cases, the conversations got louder and louder until it seemed to be the only thing people were talking about.
We all know what happened next – gathering restrictions, international borders closed, events cancelled, and full-blown lockdowns around the world.
Suddenly the year that we expected to unfold ahead of us on 1 January seemed but a distant memory.
This year has been hard for all of us. There has been so much grief for the things that have been lost – the weddings, graduations, and overseas holidays, as well as people’s jobs and sometimes their lives. There has been uncertainty for the future too, with no one knowing how long this will go on for.
But for all the reasons why people would love to forget everything that has happened in 2020, there are some things worth remembering about this unusual time in history.
Here are my top five lessons learned from ‘that’ year.
1. Hold things lightly
Most of us had months of plans cancelled in one fell swoop at the start of the pandemic, but the danger for a lot of us was that we thought this was a one-time thing, and we could just postpone things by a few months. Unfortunately, we now know it’s not that easy.
As we’ve seen restriction levels constantly move when case numbers go up, we know that there’s no guarantee of what tomorrow, next week or next month will hold. But actually, isn’t this true of life anyway? Anything could happen and not even our lives are guaranteed to us tomorrow.
This doesn’t mean we should stay frozen for fear of what the future might hold - absolutely go ahead and still make plans! For our own wellbeing, we have to keep on living our lives as best we can, but just hold things lightly. Remember that nothing is guaranteed to us, and we can be grateful for the things that do happen.
2. It’s ok to lament and grieve
When we are disappointed, whether that’s an event being cancelled or not being able to see a friend for months, it is completely ok to sit in that lament, and grieve for that loss.
We’re so conditioned to only share our most beautiful lives that we tend to hide the hard stuff because we think that no one wants to see it. But in 2020, everyone has faced so much loss and disappointment. While many of us were in lockdown in our homes for weeks on end with all our regular activities cancelled, we really had no choice but to confront the hard stuff headfirst – there was no hiding from it.
Life is a rollercoaster at the best of times, with both highs and lows, mountains and valleys, winters and summers, so let’s not pretend that it’s summer all the time and nothing bad ever happens. There is no shame in embracing the moments of grief.
3. Self-care is not selfish
We need to make sure that we look after ourselves when those valley moments do hit us. ‘Self-care’ has been a bit of a buzz word for a while now, but I think a lot of us didn’t know what it truly meant or how much we needed it until this year.
A year ago, if you told someone that you needed to stay home with a cup of tea and a good book instead of going out with a group of friends, they’d look at you a bit weird and say that you were letting the team down, but sometimes the best thing to do is to be courageous and admit what it is that you need in that moment. It’s not being selfish; it’s making the right decisions about your own wellbeing so that you can function better tomorrow.
4. Enjoy each moment
Just as we will always experience valleys in life, there will always be mountaintop moments too, so don’t just let them slip past but enjoy them.
Even before Covid-19, our hectic pace of life meant that a lot of us weren’t truly present. We let each moment fly by us, while we were distracted thinking about a million other things – how to caption this photo on Instagram, what we should have for dinner tonight, or the five email notifications that just pinged on our phones.
But as we mourn for the things we can’t do, it’s even more important that we focus on the moments we do have. We need to choose to be fully present and enjoy each moment for what it is, whether that’s meeting friends for dinner, travelling to another part of New Zealand you haven’t seen before, or gathering with your church whānau for a service.
5. Always remain hopeful
Lastly, we must always remain hopeful. We can always look for the goodness of God and the crazy thing is that we will always find it. Psalm chapter 27 verse 13 says “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Even when things look like they are completely falling apart, whether that’s just your life or the whole world all at once, when God is involved there is always hope.
Rebecca Howan is from Wellington, New Zealand, where she works as an Executive Assistant in the humanitarian sector. She worships and serves at The Salvation Army, and is passionate about music, travelling the world and building community.
You can read Rebecca’s previous columns at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rebecca-howan.html