We are in the final month of the year that was like any other year in our lifetime. Phrases like “the new normal” have defined many people’s experience, others regularly are posting satire like “I want a refund on 2020.” But I’m going to do a technique counselors use in a session when someone is suffering called reframing and incorporate some of God’s Word into it.
- 2020 was unlike any other year, absolutely.
- 2020 has challenged probably everyone in some way or another.
- 2020 has hurt, directly or indirectly, with death, loss of jobs, broken relationships, loss of security, and more.
But do we need to resent going through this year? Are we missing God ordained points of this whole experience that can actually lead to growth in our relationship with God as well as furthering our ministries and ourselves.
Jesus’ Unique Ways Of Grace
When we talk about the topics of pain, suffering, heartache, loss, and worry in the midst of any of these events, any hope of productive debate falls on deaf ears. It is easy to sit on a Zoom call or at a church coffee shop where Christians who are not immediately suffering work through the theological response God would have for us. Don’t get me wrong, these conversations are good and important, but in the midst of a crisis, we need to understand we don’t have great ears for hearing. We need to look at how we can move within the midst of the deep emotions in unique ways.
John Piper says it best in his book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God:
How does God’s grace engage your sufferings? We may know the right answer. And yet we don’t know it. It is a hard answer. But we make it sound like a pat answer. God sets about a long slow answering. But we try to make it a quick fix. His answer insists on being lived out over time and into the particulars. We act as if just saying the right words makes it so. God’s answer insists on changing you into a different kind of person.Piper, John & Taylor, Justin. (2006). Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. p. 145
In fact, I love Jesus’ entire theological response with the death of Lazarus of “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV) or Jesus to the Pharisees about the adulterous woman He writes in the sand a for a time, offers a challenge to the men, and then goes back to writing in the sand. (John 8:1-11) In these highly emotional events, and so many others (Jesus on the Cross, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, etc), the response of Jesus is not a posture of working through theological errors and cognitive distortions, but to keep moving forward.
In working through fear, depression, or anxiety, cognitive conversations like “don’t fear, God is in control” are trying to stop the negative thoughts break down a barrier, but this is a rational response in a situation that is not rational. Instead of trying to attack the barrier, we need to change our perspective.
Let’s look at the example of Paul in his letter to the Philippians, where Paul is in chains and undoubtedly knows his fate. He writes not out of pleading or needing comfort, but in thanksgiving. In understanding that because of his position, he has been able to witness to jailors and other Romans, his own heart for ministry coming to fruition.
Paul has all the reason to complain, no one would argue with him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)
So how do we reframe our perception of 2020? We aren’t saying that this process was awesome, that we hope to do it all over again. Instead, let’s not miss the little miracles that happened, the opportunities that came about, the ways we can grow more because the regular routines we had were broken up and we found ourselves learning more about ourselves and God.
- Some individuals found this time to improve their health at home because they were not going out to eat as much, not staying up too late, and not stuck at work all day. It would not have happened without this pandemic.
- Others have voted for the first time. Some found themselves not blindly picking candidates, but actually taking the time to research what each candidate was stating, and making an informed decision.
- Many who could not go to church on Sundays in person started living a faith that was beyond just one day a way and instead started to regularly read their Bible, pray for themselves and others, get to know their neighbors, and involve themselves in service and evangelism/discipleship.
- Churches found themselves more in need than ever in service to the community, while understanding that they were greatly reliant on God’s provision through tithing and giving of time and resources.
- People have been more thankful of what they took for granted, tried out new hobbies or careers they may not have done before, and found they have resiliency that was not previously there.
- Some people finally sought help for their mental health.
- Others began talking to those who need that support.
And in this, we can thank God for what He has given to us, in all that is 2020. And as Paul states in the closing of his letter to the Philippians, even when it does not make sense, rejoice in your faith to God:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) emphasis ours