I recently noticed a political cartoon in which two women were sitting together; the caption read “I keep checking my calendar because 2021 feels a lot like 2020.” It appears as a culture we have nearly run out of adjectives to describe the past year, I have almost settled on turbulent.
I am not ready to assign 2020 to apocalyptic, but there is little doubt our usual personal crisis have been complicated by unexpected global events. Nearly every aspect of our lives from the celebration of marriages and the solace of funerals have been altered, delayed or canceled. Events historically considered normal, even mundane like going to school and social gatherings have been interrupted. I would not be surprised if those who were breathlessly awaiting the end of the year and the beginning of new one are now feeling somewhat let down as January 2021 slips into history.
Perhaps then our greatest challenge is having a helpful perspective. It doesn’t matter where you place yourself on a faith scale, how you view and interpret events in the world around you will make a difference in how you live — how much of life you enjoy.
In what may be a familiar passage, the apostle Paul writes to his beloved “church” in Philippi. While we often refer to buildings as churches, the Greek word for “church” refers to people. Paul had spent a great deal of time in the city, he had been imprisoned and beaten there, but he also introduced a large number of people to the “Good News” of Christ’s grace. He begins the closing of his letter to them with “Therefore, my brothers, you who I love and long for, my joy and crown.” Paul knew people by name and even publicly called them to reconcile when disagreements threatened the unity of believers. Then he gave these words of encouragement to people who in many ways like us also lived in challenging times.
Spoiler alert it is easy to read things without thinking about them, so I would like to briefly call your attention to just a few of the helpful nuggets in these verses. “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 everything, 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).
Attitude is directly linked to perspective so Paul advises his friends to “Rejoice,” a word we may not use in everyday conversation, but Paul was saying be cheerful or calmly happy. He then goes on to encourage gentleness, an attitude reflecting how we engage with other people, a challenge in difficult times then and now.
Paul turns then to the idea of anxiety and says in short don’t worry, pray. Paul then gives a short lesson on a basic element of prayer: thankfulness; then moves on to an expected result, which is peace.
Whatever adjective you have selected for 2020, going forward into 2021 your perspective can be much improved if you can find that place of peace.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.