2020 Was Not a Waste

By Jane Highley

A mistake can be an opportunity. About four years ago, when I realized it was too late to make and send Christmas photo cards, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to create New Year’s Day cards instead, with plenty of time to spare and less pressure. And that has been the new norm for us since.

As I was in the middle of customizing our card to ring in the new year, I noticed a common theme on these photo card sites to dismiss 2020 as a throw-away year. Here are some examples of this kind of cynicism:

“Good Riddance 2020”
“Well, that was crazy! Happy 2021 (finally)!”
“Here’s to a year NOT to remember”
“2021 can’t get here soon enough”
“2020 = definition of a dumpster fire”

I’m not saying that this year was easy or happy, but I’m also not saying that it was hard and miserable all year. As with every year, especially in retrospect, 2020 was a mixed-bag that included a combination of events and emotions that resulted in a very full year—not an easy one, but also not one that I wish to throw away in a pile of emotional refuse. I experienced so much of God’s goodness this year (like years past), and his faithful presence was so clearly felt especially when there was so much noise, chaos, and grief everywhere.

Of course, others could justifiably object to this and say, “Sure, Jane, easy for you to say. You didn’t lose your job, you didn’t lose a family member, and you didn’t get sick.” Yes, that’s all true. I am surrounded by abundant blessings, but I am not blind to what others have tragically lost. Yet everything happened (or didn’t happen) under God’s authority. To him, nothing about 2020 was a surprise, nothing was a misstep on His part. To say that this year should be dismissed is to undermine His providential timing.

This pandemic has required all of us to make sacrifices of varying costs and to make numerous pivots at work and at home, adults and children. Yes, this year was unequivocally hard, but there are undeniable blessings to count. For example, the good news about vaccines that have already been approved and are being distributed nationwide—that also happened this year, and in record time. This year, some people got married, others became parents (again or for the first time), children hit developmental milestones, families cultivated new traditions—we all continued to thrive as much as we could in spite of the bad things.

Consider how the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, and the elections have all brought us to many moments of solemn reckoning—with our families, our neighbors, our coworkers, ourselves. Those moments were uncomfortable, if not downright painful. But the events of 2020 also compelled us to have honest, overdue conversations about race, equity, and justice—and they haven’t stopped.

I admit that I probably wouldn’t be able to write any of this if I had experienced life-changing trauma or loss, but if I had, I hope I would grow in faith to recognize God’s steadfast love for me, that his love is not absent even “though the earth gives way.” He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1-2). I would not be able to recognize and long for His grace and mercy if I also didn’t recognize and own my sins. Therefore, I am thankful for all of 2020 because God was and is ever-present. He revealed his grace everyday this year. And He will do the same in the new year.