By Jenna Ebener
The year 2020 has been filled with indescribable experiences. COVID-19, natural disasters, blatant acts of racism and an election year breach the tip of the iceberg. Everyone has been impacted in one way or another by events that seem to be jam-packed into one year. There is no questioning the bombardment of negative emotions accumulating throughout the year. Many people express a desire for this year to be over. While we want these incredible challenges to end, I caution against making “2020” a scapegoat.
No question, this has been an intense year. What I question is the present and the future; what are we letting control us? Are we letting all of the negative things that have happened this year shape our current and future actions? Are we stuck in a mindset that things will never get better because this year is so awful? Or are we still able to see the rays of hope?
So much division exists in our country, and yet I see opportunities for unity. While COVID-19 is still not going anywhere, I see opportunities to continue to show my neighbors I care what happens to them by my actions. While I am heartbroken that holidays are going to look so different this year, I am holding onto the belief that connection will still happen, albeit in a different way.
Our expectations are largely shaped by where we are looking and what we expect. We recently had a pumpkin-decorating contest at work. Many of the decorated pumpkins were extravagant. I saw pumpkins that were clearly painstakingly created: a nurse, a hedgehog made out of candy corn, and the Wizard of Oz trio were some of the favorites. Some created simpler ones, pumpkins covered in paint or glitter. At first glance, these pumpkins paled in comparison to the others. Then we learned who made them: students who struggle with fine motor skills, and even a dog! All of a sudden, those pumpkins became more meaningful to many people for we realized how much effort went into those seemingly simple pumpkins.
Where are our eyes trained? What do we expect? Do we focus on how we think this year should be going and how we want this year to be over? Do we expect more hardship because that is all we think we now know? Or are we taking time to see the blessings that are scattered throughout our days? Do we take the time to appreciate the value of each and every person around us?
Are we keeping our eyes on God? Regardless of the year, our struggles are not going to disappear magically. We may have heightened our awareness to misfortune after this year. But, if one positive can come from the darkness, I think it is this: we can become stronger than ever if we allow ourselves to be defined not by the year 2020 but by God. Mourn what we have lost, praise what we have gained, hope for a brighter future and, above all, give it all back to God. “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way” (Psalm 119:37).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with medical needs.)