I’ve been quiet. For a couple of months I have tried to think about what to say and how to say it. I’ve tried to figure out exactly what this pain is inside of me. This aching. This longing. I have stood here in my pleasant life and watched people I know and love endure sickness, heartbreak, death, mental illness. I have crumpled inside thinking of a friend burying his son. Of my college roommate sitting by her father’s bedside, holding his hand as he took his final breath. I have gone about the busy-ness of carting children to their various activities. I’ve completed writing projects and had lots of meetings and prepared to teach Sunday school. I have decked out my house for Christmas, comforted my kids and cried many tears myself when our pet died. I have cooked meals and done laundry and watched the news and felt burdened and beat down. All this illness and death and heartbreak. Even all this mundane day-to-day. All these precious memories of my kids’ childhoods that are slipping through my fingers as the years march on. All this unpredictability. All this dread. I suppose that I, normally the optimist, have spent a few months swimming in the proof all around me that this world is a sad, sad place. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been swimming in that reality as much as I have been drowning in it.
It’s been a year of nagging fears. It’s been a season of remembering just how human we are, how fragile, how sinful, how easily distracted. I’ve been on a spiritual roller coaster since last spring. Every new twist and turn in the history of this world we’re living in, and in the lives of the people that I love, makes my stomach drop again. Has the truth ever been more plainly on display for easy-going Gen Xers like myself? Living is hard.
But I think one thing that I’m coming to as God makes me and molds me is just how much brighter real hope shines when things get dark. All of the pain and heartbreak and anxiety and devastation of being a person in a sea of pained, heartbroken, anxious, devastated people grows, as one songwriter said, strangely dim in the light of the manger, in the radiance of the cross, in the brilliance of the empty tomb. Jesus came as a round, squirmy baby, not just to shed light on all of the dark recesses of our hearts, but to shine light into the pitch black of the unknown and the terrifying. His coming signaled the beginning of the end of all of the things that a sin-soaked world lays on us. That abundant life that Jesus talked about isn’t a lack of sad and hard and awful things. It’s about an ability to see the sad, hard, and awful as they are illuminated by His promises. By His presence. By His goodness.
So, as 2020 comes to an end, I guess I am still an optimist after all. I am hopeful. I am confident. Not because of world leaders, policies, vaccines, or institutions. Not because I believe that people are good at their core (we aren’t). Not because I have faith in my fellow man or in the ideas that do or do not permeate our society. I’m an optimist because I remember that the baby in the manger knows and loves me. When He was forsaken on a cross, He knew who He was dying for, and He did it anyway. When He rose from the grave He brought me victory over sin and death and disease and devastation. He brought the light. And as I step into 2021 I want to walk in the hope that He brings. God with us. I’ve never seen Him shine brighter.