One Year Later: A Retrospective on 2020 – Bethel Church and Ministries

One Year Later: A Retrospective on 2020

 

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

Today is the one-year anniversary of my first blog on pandemic life, Family Schedule on Quarantine. I composed it as an early response to the already hours of phone calls, email, and conversations I had in the few days it had been since the pandemic began. I had only gone to bed mere hours before, yet woke up before the sun rose, burdened to do what I could—which didn’t seem like much—so I set myself to writing. In many ways, I haven’t stopped. It is now one of many new disciplines that exist in my world due to the pandemic life of the last year.

Had you told me in February of last year that I’d have done all that I did in the months that followed, I would have chuckled at the sheer impossibility of it. I’ll bet some of you would have to. We all had plans as Proverbs 16 describes. We had March Madness brackets, spring break trips, prom dates, and graduation parties. We had vacations, vacation Bible school, and all manner of things on our radar. And yet… the Lord had other plans. He established the whole of our steps in a different direction entirely.

It would be easy for us to simply review the last year, but I genuinely believe we have beaten those subjects within an inch of their lives. So, let me just shoot off the buzz words for the sake of “2020” in an effort to be thorough: quarantine, shelter-in-place, stay-at-home order, racial tension, Zoom, masks, election, back to normal. Even the sight of some of those words inspires exhaustion. There are more we could stick in that list if we really wanted to.

Instead, what I thought would be more beneficial is to inspire us to truly consider a few things in an effort to make the most of 2020 for our futures. We are so culturally prone to move on, forget, adapt, and just keep going that we don’t fully integrate our experiences into our lives moving forward.

I’ll open and close with questions like these:

  • What did 2020 teach me?
  • What lessons from 2020 need to be carried forward and integrated into my/our life moving forward?
  • Am I squandering what God tried to teach me last year as I now strive to find the new normal?

Instead of my usual route of leading us to think biblically about these questions and how to answer them, I thought it best to simply be personally transparent with you. I’m going to answer my own questions, and hope that you will be willing to follow this example (2 Timothy 2:2) and do the same.

I would also note that the many tragedies, losses, and matters of grief of last year are in no way lost on me. They have been the subject of many submissions. Yet, for the tragedies alone to define last year is to miss an incredible opportunity to grow and give purpose, focus, and direction to our future based on the whole of what was experienced. It is this opportunity to fully integrate the last year into our future that I would like to lean into in this submission.

Family

In 2020, I personally learned to love and appreciate time with my wife and children in a new way. Transparently, I was gone a lot for a lot of good reasons. When I was home, I was present, but often distracted for a lot of good reasons. I wasn’t neglectful or a negligent husband/parent—but if I am being really honest, there was room for improvement.

Then suddenly, I was just…home. I was there all hours of the day and night. We didn’t leave, when not together as a family, for weeks on end. We learned a new routine; a better routine. I was there to be a part of homeschooling. I was involved in parenting moments as they arose. We are now a slower, tighter, more connected family than we were before because we prioritized making the most of it.

What I learned in 2020 is to not go back to 2019. As a result, my world, organization of time, and execution of my priorities will look different moving forward in order that I maintain this healthier family state. I hope some of you will consider this and do the same.

Ministry/Work

Before 2020, I did a few counseling sessions, conferences, and some consulting via telehealth software, Zoom, and a host of other platforms. They were great to connect with individuals and be places that would have otherwise necessitated a tremendous cost to accomplish. I enjoyed some parts of it, but I never really wanted to make a long-standing habit of it. My wife had even recommended I do more of these type of appointments in 2019, but I never quite got into it. I liked being in the same room with people, using a whiteboard, and being able to observe all non-verbal communication. Clearly, 2020 did not allow for such things.

Over the last year, I met with folks in the same building via Zoom. I have done countless counseling appointments with individuals in their cars. I have engaged with people in more eclectic ways and places, both here and with partners in ministry around the world because of the global movement toward digital connectivity.

Now, even as we find the in-person forms of a new normal, more than 60% of my counseling clients still desire our meetings to be digital! Most of this is not out of COVID concern, but convenience to the newness of how life works now.

A little over a year ago, I would’ve resisted this or not even considered it as an option. But even with all of my renewed efforts toward the increased family time I referenced above, I am actually more productive now because of digital counseling/ministry. Hours spent driving, waiting, and related things—they are non-existent now. Things that we never even realized were a time-suck before, are now not even a consideration.

I still meet with many people in person, every week. I love it. But I have learned the value of being flexible, meeting people where they’re digitally at, and seeing God bless those efforts in ways I cannot even begin to measure. I doubt I will be able to go back to all in-person meetings, maybe ever. And unlike a year ago, today, I am genuinely okay with it!

Community & Connectivity

I think this is a blessing introverts and extroverts alike can relate to: 2020 taught me a greater value for connectivity with other people. From my small group, to our neighbors, to my fellow staff at the church—being connected to people means more to me now than it ever has before. When you spend hours of days with friends, family, and loved ones, and then go weeks, months, or for some, a year without seeing them—that is an incredible burden. God made us for community. As many did last year, I lovedthe eclectic ways we found to (re)connect.

One of those highlights for me was outdoor services at church. This isn’t because I am a pastor here. It was the whole process of it. People being back together, worshiping, eating, spending hours just being in one another’s presence around gospel-centered things—it moved me in genuine emotion more than once. I cannot wait to relive that again this coming summer. We caught a vision for a different kind of church community during the pandemic. And I can’t wait for us to capitalize on and improve it in this and future summers!

My family also knows more of our neighbors now than we did prior. We were all outside, all the time. It was actually weird, over the winter months, not seeing them as much as we did throughout much of last year. We are really looking forward to getting back into our neighborhood for evening walks and reconnecting with folks we simply haven’t seen because it’s been too cold outside.

There is a lot more I could say here. I could literally do a series of blogs on a 2020 retrospective, and what I learned from it. Every single buzzword I referenced above could be a learning opportunity explored in and of itself. So, let me put a pin in this by simply summarizing with this: in the midst of pandemic life…

  • God has allowed me to see many blessings I was likely to have never seen or experienced otherwise.
  • God allowed me to serve more people with better personal boundaries than I ever would have otherwise.
  • God provided me the means to be better connected to my family than I would have otherwise.
  • God gave me opportunities to share Jesus with people I never would have otherwise.
  • God allowed our church to do amazing things in our community that would never have been on our radar, without the pandemic.

My challenge to you, dear reader, is this…consider these questions:

  • What did 2020 teach me?
  • What lessons from 2020 need to be carried forward and integrated into my/our life moving forward?
  • Am I squandering what God tried to teach me as we strive to find the new normal?

I pray, as you evaluate, that you capitalize on what God reveals to you, and that the best parts of the last year are integrated into your life moving forward.