For the past few years, one of my New Year's traditions has been to choose a particular word I want to be my theme for the year. For example, in 2018, I easily chose “focus,” making it my goal for the year to improve my focus on some areas I had been neglecting. With my word for 2020, though, I had more trouble deciding. I waffled between a few choices for a while, eventually selecting—but never actually recording—my word. With the doozy this year turned out to be, I soon all but forgot about my word for the year. But as I began to consider my choice for 2021, I remembered that I did have a word for 2020: enjoy.
Naturally, many of you might be thinking that the only thing to enjoy about 2020 is the fact that it's finally over. Last January, though, I was thinking things were pretty great! After a busy 2019 that had included a move, an uncomfortable pregnancy, and a new baby, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the new blessings in our life. Sure, there might be difficulties in the year ahead, I thought, but I wanted to find the good in them and enjoy them as best I could.
Obviously, 2020 turned out to be a bit more troublesome than I expected. Though we did not suffer any great illness, loss, or financial struggles, there were still plenty of worries, frustrations, and disappointments that could have been quite depressing. As I look back on our year, however, I believe God did allow me to find the joy in it, even if my word of the year wasn't consciously at the forefront of my mind.
First, the extra time at home meant that I got to enjoy lots of time with our kids. This was especially important to me with our youngest. Since he will likely be our last child, I wanted to soak in as much of his sweet baby stage as possible. I felt rushed and stressed through some of my other kids' first years, so I wanted to be sure to take time to enjoy this one. Let's just say I got my wish!
My husband and I also had extra time for deep conversations with our children, both about pandemic-related circumstances and about life in general. This is especially important for our oldest two girls, who are facing the beginnings of the teen years with all the potential turmoil and drama. Though these conversations have not always been enjoyable, we hope they've helped in building solid parental relationships and in giving guidance the girls can use through the upcoming years. In that sense, we find joy in these discussions, even if they do drive us a little crazy sometimes.
Along similar lines, my husband and I have taken this opportunity to grow in our relationship and enjoy our marriage more. Remember how great I thought things were at the beginning of the year? Well, that's not quite how my husband saw it. He does not like to make a fuss about anything, but with shutdowns altering our lives in the spring, some of the issues could no longer be ignored. Over the year, we've been able to open up to each other in new ways and resolve or improve multiple long-standing conflicts. Again, this process was often not enjoyable, but the result was completely worth it—we have grown closer and stronger than ever and are able to enjoy our relationship more.
On a side note, I firmly believe the strengthening of marriages and families is one of the best possible outcomes of this pandemic! I hope we all take advantage of the extra time with our spouses and kids, as well as finding ways to continue this family time after the pandemic ends. As for extra time, I know many people have had more opportunities for learning a new hobby or making home improvements. This hasn't exactly been true for us since we still have the kids around 24/7, but with fewer weekend activities, there has been a bit more free time. This year has allowed us to accomplish more cleaning, organizing, and general upkeep around the home than usual. My husband especially appreciates things being more orderly, so that alone makes it worthwhile! I have enjoyed being able to help him with certain projects around the house and yard.
Finally, I have enjoyed visits with extended family and friends—not nearly as often as usual in most cases, but under the circumstances, I have appreciated them all the more! I think this year has made me more grateful for the relationships we have and helped me realize how important those connections are, even if they have to be maintained via digital methods.
In sum, there were certainly moments this year when I did not feel much joy—times of fears, tears, frustration, anger, and pain. But God was faithful, and as I look back, I find that ultimately He did allow us to find joy in the midst of a troubled world. I realize that others have had much a tougher time in this pandemic than we have, and I don’t mean to make light of that. But I think seeking joy and finding reasons to be grateful have given us hope, and these are things anyone can do. We certainly hope and pray that the coming year will be kinder than 2020. But most of all, I pray that God will enable us to find joy no matter what the circumstances.
“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10b
Photo credit: Photos courtesy of author.