This year has brought a lot of unexpected heartache. Maybe you, like me, went into 2020 saying “this is going to be my year!” only to be blindsided in March by the Covid-19 virus. And just when summer seemed to bring some relief from the lockdowns and restrictions, the death of George Floyd and the following movements and protests brought more heartache for those in our nation who are fighting battles on the civil rights front. On top of all that, a monumental and divisive election has left our nation in disarray. And perhaps the most difficult part of the Covid-19 crisis is that we don’t know when this will end; we don’t know how long businesses will be closed, when we’ll be able to see people’s faces instead of masks, or when we will be able to visit friends and family without the risk of someone getting sick.
But through the heartache of this year, I’ve experienced something surprising: hope. Our reaction to heartache is not normally hope; we usually ask why, we feel like we don’t deserve it, and we get angry. Especially as Christians, we wonder why God would allow so many difficult things in just a single year. But we also know that we’re supposed to have living hope in Jesus, even in trials (1 Peter 1:3-7). So how do we move on from heartache into a place of hope again? 2020 has taught me a lot about this process, and I hope some of what I’ve learned can be helpful.
First of all, I want you to know that it’s OKAY to feel heartache as 2020 wraps up. Society places pressure on us to look like we have it all together even when things are falling apart around us. But we have to be honest and allow ourselves to feel all of our feelings, because the first step to healing is feeling. The Bible says there is a time to cry and a time to laugh; a time for mourning and a time for dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:4). It’s ok to take time to mourn. After all, much of what has happened this year breaks God’s heart, too. But the grieving process is meant to eventually bring us back to the hope and faith that God will see us through.
The biggest thing that will bring us back to hope is knowing and believing the truths that God has spoken to us in the Bible. The truth is that we are going to experience heartache in this life, but that’s not where the story ends. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We will have trouble, but we know that every battle we fight ends in victory, because God has already won. The Christmas season reminds us that our God is committed to redeeming our trials; when Jesus was born, Israel had been waiting– hoping– for GENERATIONS for the Savior the prophets had spoken of years ago. And finally, on the first Christmas, God revealed His plan for redemption with the gift of His Son, who paved the way for us all to find salvation and new life in Christ. God redeemed the Israelites’ suffering and restored their hope, and he does the same for us today. His presence is all the comfort we need in suffering. We might not see the story God is writing when we’re in the middle of heartache, but there is always hope, because every story God writes is a redemption story.
So what does this look like practically? It’s one thing to believe the truth that God will bring us through this trial, but it’s another to live like that is true. We need to re-orient our perspective to that truth. God doesn’t “give” us trials, but Romans 5:3-4 tells us that He does use them to produce endurance, character, and hope in us. Look for the good that has happened this year, even if you have to dig deep to find it. Suffering and hope always exist together, as two sides to the same story. But you get to choose which one will have the last word for you. Know that you will emerge from this battle stronger if you let God use it. Remind yourself of times in your own life and in the Bible when God was faithful, and worship Him in the battle, because He has already won.
January 1, 2021 is not going to bring a magical end to Covid or political tension or any other trial we are facing on December 31. But it can be a new beginning for our hearts. We still don’t know when the heartache will end, but we don’t need deliverance FROM the pain– that would mean we wouldn’t grow. We need hope IN and THROUGH it. And that hope is already here, in a baby named Jesus. So let’s go into 2021 with an attitude of confident hope in the redemption of all that has happened in 2020 and gratitude that God’s presence is with us as we navigate the journey from heartache to hope.