If ever there was a year to learn things, it was this one. Lessons I never expected. Lessons I never would have chosen on my own. Lessons that were painfully necessary. Lessons that have deepened my faith and challenged my mind. Just a quick glance back over this year’s blog posts show me such a vastness of what I’ve learned.
This isn’t one of those years where I post a happy “picture look-back” tribute to the year. To be honest, there are very few pictures from this past year that bring me a lot of joy. But while this is one of those years that may not have been “Instagram-worthy,” it was crucial in shaping growth and maturity.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about my word for the year being “undistracted.” I wanted to go deeper and cut out more distractions in my life. Ironically, I had no idea the extremes to which this year would take me in that pursuit.
On the one hand, some distractions of a busy life were automatically cut out due to quarantine and shut-downs. When I wrote of wanting there to be more “puzzles, painting, walks in the neighborhood, and poetry,” I had no idea the hours upon hours at home that would be given to me to pursue just those things.
On the other hand, other distractions, such as social media, became increasingly greater, given all the extra time at home. While I didn’t accomplish all (or even most) of my plan to cut out distractions this past year, I did follow taking a week off of social media several times throughout the year. And they came at times when the oppressiveness of those platforms was the strongest.
My ideals for curating a deeper year were cut off by personal and social grief and merely learning to cope with it, but in unexpected ways, God brought me deeper than I ever imagined. So, briefly, here are the top ten lessons that this past year gave to me:
- Grief is slow, but community is essential in the midst of it.
Right after my dad passed away, a friend left a sweet gift on my porch of a little plant in a snail-shaped ceramic pot. There was a note next to it that said, “Because grief is slow.” I loved this reminder to not try to rush the grieving process, and to accept it for what it is. I also loved the other reminder that we need a community around us as we walk through grief.
With all the love my family received after my dad passed away – through meals, plants, flowers, cards, and text messages – I realized how important it is to be there for each other in times of loss. It made me want to get better at sending cards and flowers when others experience loss because of how much it meant to me – and not feel like it’s meaningless. Every gesture, however small, shows love and support, and that’s what we need when grief comes to our door.
- Healing comes through rest – and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it
There were so many times this year when I thought, “I should be productive” – but I was just so exhausted. I didn’t understand why I was so tired – I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything that tiring. But stress and grief are exhausting, and I had to learn how to listen to what my body needed – which was rest. Whether that was taking a nap on the couch or watching a TV show while doing a crossword puzzle – I had to force myself to be still and not feel guilty about it. I knew the day would eventually come when I wouldn’t be that tired and I could jump back into my goals (I feel I’m almost there), but in the meantime, I had to have patience with myself.
- But when the time comes again for discipline and routine, our bodies will thank us for it
Within the past month and a half, I’ve slowly started integrating old habits, such as exercise and Scripture memory, and it is also healing to my body. There are times when we’re not ready for it and times when we are, and we just have to take it slow in the process. On days when I need to rest again, I can’t get discouraged and give up the habits all together. I take a day off and then pray for the energy I need for the next day.
- Sometimes we have to pause in the pursuit of what God has called us to
I look back on this year and feel discouraged that I hardly worked on my book (when it seems like I would have with all the extra time I had). But I also know that it’s nearly impossible to be creative and forward-moving when our brains are dealing with extreme stress, grief, anxiety, or trauma. There’s no room for new ideas when all we can do is cope with what’s going on around us. So I’m learning to look back at this year as sort of a pause button, and now I’m ready to pick up the task again. If God needs to pause it again due to more heavy circumstances, then I trust Him in the waiting process and believe it will be finished when it’s supposed to be finished.
- Loving others in a divided political and social scene is harder than it looks – but more necessary than I ever realized.
I didn’t know just how divisive our country could become until we were faced with all new challenges this year. I didn’t know how strongly I would feel about them until they happened. And I didn’t know how hard it would be to love those who felt differently than I did. But as I watched hateful memes and sarcastic put-downs being shoved out by both sides – even in an effort to spread awareness or justice (“if you aren’t bothered by this, there’s something wrong with you”) – I wondered how in the world we got here and how we could learn to love each other again. I have strong convictions and opinions about things going on in the world, that is true. But I want to love others just as much as I want them to love me – and if that means I stay quiet about them sometimes, then I need to learn to do just that. It’s a messy process, but I pray for grace every step of the way.
- Educating myself about current issues is necessary as a believer who is called to lovingly stand for truth
I also realized how little I actually knew about topics that surfaced on social media, and how much I needed to educate myself about them – away from social media. Suddenly all those boring talk-show hosts, news outlets, and political commentators that I’d heard about through my parents and grandparents became not so boring as I sought to find truth in a biased and shouting world. I’ve been learning how to critically approach all sources and not put complete trust in any one of them, and I feel I’ve made progress in this area, although there is much more to learn.
- The loudest voices aren’t always the right ones
We are often tempted to listen to the most popular or viral voices going around in society – either liberal or conservative. We see a quote posted by multiple people and think that’s what must be right. We get sucked in to making snap decisions because of emotional reactions before looking fully into the matter. I’m trying to learn to discern the good out of what’s put out there, sift out the not-so-good, and analyze it through a lens of prayer and the Word of God. It takes longer, but in the end, it serves us all better.
- Discovering how to be creatively frugal is good for me
I took a new job this year that came with a pay cut instead of a pay raise, which most people would deem irresponsible. But I’ve learned that there are more important things to a job than just the paycheck – and when you feel God calling you to go, you learn to trust Him to provide. And let’s be honest – I made more money than I needed as a single person, and now, learning to be creatively frugal is an important discipline. It also helps me to think of more sustainable ways of living, such as through gardening or thrifting, and I’m excited to discover more of what this might bring me in the next year.
- Isolation as a single person is destructive – we need each other now more than ever
If you had even one other person with whom to quarantine this year, you had a gift. You may have gotten sick of so much time with them, but believe me, it’s so much better than having to quarantine alone. I didn’t realize how bad it was for me in the spring until recently when we had Veteran’s Day off. I started going through the same routine that I did every day in the spring, and it started bringing back mild panic. We were meant to live in community, not in isolation, and for my mental health, I will choose to still spend time with my family and close friends, even if I don’t live in the same house with them.
- Focused reading is something I’m discovering again, and I’m embracing it
Doing lots of reading this year was something I had intended to do but ended up not doing because like I said before, it’s difficult to focus when the brain has to handle everything else. But being on Christmas break has afforded me more opportunities to sit in quiet and read, and the joy of devouring books is returning to me. And as I do so, the ideas and challenging thoughts are exactly what I need for motivation for new habits and goals. Also, canceling every streaming subscription I had helps remove the distractions so I can read more! I hope to tackle more books on Christian growth/theology and political/current issues, so if you have recommendations, please pass them my way.
If you got through this post, and thought, “Good for you, learning all those lessons. The only lesson I learned was to survive,” I get it. That’s how I felt throughout a lot of the year. I’m only just now getting to the place of being able to reflect and seek growth again. And who knows? In a month, a week, or a few days, I might hit another rough patch where I’m clinging to tears, tea, and the Bible. That’s okay. It’s all part of the journey out of this crazy year and into the next.
May God continue to sustain us all with grace.