2020 has been an extraordinary year. Extraordinarily difficult. Extraordinarily sad. Extraordinarily disappointing. Whether you’re a senior, employer, pastor, parent, waitress, nurse, student, or child, life as we knew it in February of this year has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Loved ones have died, jobs have been lost, relationships have been strained, investments have been ruined, stress has been heightened, vacations have been canceled, and routines have been upended.
We are all ready for a return to normalcy. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed this desire expressed in a predictable refrain: “We just need this year to end.” I’ve nodded in agreement. There is comfort in thinking that if we simply endure through 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2020, the suffering of this season will come to an end. Surely, next year won’t be like this one.
But what if it is?
A broken cistern
Hoping in tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year certainly isn’t a new way of coping with hard times. When life gets tough, we are hope-seekers and typically, we hope in changed circumstances. Our spiritual ancestors groaned in slavery and longed for deliverance from Egypt. They mourned in exile and yearned for their homeland. In their homeland, the Jews longed for deliverance from Roman rule. We share this in common with our spiritual ancestors: we struggle to trust God and be content in times of suffering. Enslavement, exile, and foreign rule are not Edenic circumstances. Neither is a pandemic. This is not how life is supposed to be.
And yet, Scripture and personal experience remind us that changed circumstances don’t necessarily deliver the peace and joy we expect. As 2020 nears its end, many of us believe that if only our lives returned to pre-pandemic health, freedom, income, security, and social commitments, then we would be happy again. And yet, we forget how even in those “normal” circumstances, we also struggled with contentment. Our problem is our forgetfulness that no circumstances of life will ever fully satisfy.
Israel struggled in a similar way throughout her history and too often, she failed to pursue God as her source of joy, replacing Him with a menagerie of idols. To this people, God said through the prophet Jeremiah: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (2:12–13). In other words, you’re looking for joy in the wrong place.
Hoping in 2021 as a remedy for all the losses and disappointments of 2020 is a broken cistern. There are no guarantees that our present sufferings—either health, finances, relationships, or jobs—will be resolved next year. There are no guarantees that a vaccine will accomplish this either. Vacations may still be delayed or canceled. Loved ones may still be hospitalized and even pass away. These are the hard realities of living on this earth as we await Christ’s return. But the good news is: we don’t need to hope in next year.
An indestructible cistern
As 2020 has shown, the future is unknown to us. We are not in control. Our plans are always tentative and subject to change. And so, when we are searching for good news and the promise of a better day tomorrow, the only hope we can turn to is the Lord. The One who has been from eternity past and will continue into eternity future. The One who never changes. The One who has every day of human history written in a book. The One who promises to walk with us in loss, who has taken our place in suffering, and who is preparing for us a glorious home in heaven.
As 2020 comes to a close, Christ beckons us fainthearted saints to draw near to Him: “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). As 2021 nears, David exhorts us hope-seekers to rightly place our hope in God:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 131).
Our biggest mistake in the final months of 2020 is to look anywhere other than the Lord for comfort and hope as we anticipate what 2021 may hold. We can plead for recovered jobs, investments, relationships, and freedoms but we do so at great peril to our own joy if we do so without trusting the Lord to be sufficient for our every need should those good desires be unfulfilled.
We ought to heed Christ’s words and seek our rest in him, whatever next year holds. We ought to heed David’s words and content ourselves to be as trusting infants in the arms of a merciful and gracious God. He knows our particular needs and is bent on showing goodness and mercy towards us.
Let’s ask the Lord to improve the circumstances of our lives in 2021. Oh Lord, would you make it so! But let’s ask from hearts that are at rest and satisfied in our God. He has provided sufficient grace for us each day of 2020 and promises to do so in 2021 and every year of our lives beyond that until He returns or calls us home.