It was a year ago when the Covid-19 lockdowns became real. On top of the pandemic, this past year was full of political division and difficulty. Words that could describe 2020: uncertainty, turmoil, division, isolation, distancing, death.

All of us have been affected by 2020. Some of us felt the struggles of isolation and depression. Some of us became sick (with Covid-19) or other illnesses. Some of us faced the very real challenges of grief and losing a loved one. For all of us 2020 was challenging. For many 2020 was difficult. For others 2020 was devastating.

If you are reading this, regardless of the difficulties you’ve had this past year, you have some things for which to be thankful.

We don’t have to be thankful for everything we’ve experienced, but we should remain thankful in what we’ve experienced. The apostle Paul penned the following words from prison to a church that needed reminding about being thankful.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-8 (emphasis mine)

In reflecting on this past year, here are some of things that I’m thankful for.

During this past year, God taught me to be more thankful for time. A friend of mine observed that it seemed March 2020 happened just yesterday and on another hand that it happened 10 years ago. I’m sure we can all relate to his sentiment. As I was reflecting on this, God reminded me that he created time, is outside of time, and is not bound by time. God gives us time as a gift to spend. 2020 was a year that reminded me the privileges of time with the Lord, time with family, and time with others.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for the difficult things. In Scripture, the people God used most often faced difficult circumstances in life. Noah spent more than 100 year building an ark. Abraham left his home. Joseph was sold as as slave and falsely sent to prison. Moses was a refugee in the wilderness. Job. David. Jesus. We could go on, but the biblical data is clear. God uses difficult circumstances to shape and mature us. The isolation, suffering, grief, uncertainty, and division of the past year have been challenging and at times devastating. But in the hands of the Master, these circumstances can also form us spiritually. I’m thankful for how God used the stresses, uncertainties, and difficulties of this past year to point me to him.

During this past year, God taught me to be more thankful for my family. For so many families, distance learning and the loss of extracurricular activities have been difficult. But my wife has been a hero playing the role of teacher, mom, wife, and director of a non-profit. Family life together figuring out school, work, and family day-by-day has been a challenge. But God gave me an exceptional wife who managed the details of this past year spectacularly. We put the boys back in school recently, and I’ll confess that I miss them at home during the day. The pandemic year spent at home together is a time we are certain to never forget.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for frontline workers. Here are some of my heroes from the past year: teachers, anybody working in the hospital, and all those working at grocery stores and in the transportation industry. I’m sure I’m leaving other frontline workers out, but for any of us who were able to isolate safely with resources, there are many people for whom we should be thankful. I’m grateful for the teachers who were forced to adapt from in-person to remote to in-person to modified. And next time you think about it, whisper a prayer of thanks for those in the hospital that dealt with the tragedies and deaths of this year. If you had food and necessities during your isolation remember that someone packed, shipped, stocked, delivered, or prepared it. It is easy to take our frontline workers for granted. Don’t. Be thankful for those who had to work when everyone else was told to stay home.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for my church family. God called me to be a pastor, and I love my calling. But this year has been uniquely disconcerting. Shutdowns, reopening, disinfecting, distancing, online worship are things they don’t teach you in seminary. But during this entire year, our church family at Wilkesboro Baptist has remained gracious and encouraging. Our church generously gave more than our budgeted needs, participated in online worship, continued serving community mission partners, and prayed for our church and staff. We’ve had no major arguments, frustrations, and fusses. I’m grateful for a church family that’s been supportive, generous, and involved during this challenging year.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for the little things. I never thought I would miss seeing people smile. But with everyone masking up, one has to look closely at the eyes to see a smile. I’m grateful for the waves, elbow bumps, and greetings that have replaced hugs and handshakes. I’m grateful for moments in the sunshine and the little things that God does to remind me of his presence. It is good for us to pause and be thankful for the little things in our daily experiences.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for good books. Someone once said that we are most shaped by the people we meet, the places we go, and the books we read. With limited opportunities to meet new people and travel during this pandemic, reading is one thing that I could do. This past year gave me the opportunity to finish Francis Schaeffer’s complete works, subscribe to membership to engage with books when I’m unable to sit down, and to read many other books. In addition to Schaeffer’s works, here are a few favorite reads from my pandemic year. Favorite philosophy/theology book: Pagans and Christians in the City, by Steven Smith. Favorite commentary: Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word Series), by Philip Graham Ryken. Favorite biography: Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson. Favorite leadership book: Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy. A book that challenged me: Dopesick, by Beth Macy. Most inspiring book of this past year: The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for good friends. I needed my friends this past year. God gave me good pastor friends to help navigate the changing responsibilities of pastoring in a pandemic. God gave me friends who would just listen and friends who just needed me to listen. While in-person interaction with friends has been different during this year, contacts and conversations have been just as necessary. I’m thankful for those friends that have encouraged, inspired, and challenged me.

During this past year, God taught me to be thankful for his unchanging mission. There are many everyday circumstances that have changed during this pandemic. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Our mission to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus is changeless. Since moving worship services online, we’ve had the opportunity to reach more people with the message of the gospel. God sent unbelievers to our church, and during the course of the year we saw some of them become Christ-followers. We continue to witness God at work in the lives of others. It is important to remember that while many things in our daily experience have changed, the most important things remain the same.

What are some of the things you are thankful for from this past year? What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome during this past year?

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Governor Cooper issued a stay at home order on Friday for the state of North Carolina through the end of April. Social distancing and isolation are real. I realize that many of us will still be working. I also realize that many who remain at home are responsible for children or aging parents. But all of us will be affected by these bans.

We can no longer join friends or spouses for lunch at a favorite restaurant. We can no longer meet with our children’s friends for playdates. We can no longer meet together for worship services at our local churches. I could go on, but you are very well aware of these isolating circumstances.

I’m not here to debate the validity of the isolation, nor am I going to bemoan the difficulty of it. Rather, I would simply like to point out that God has used isolation as a tool for spiritual development for thousands of years. How can you be sure that God uses this situation in your life as a means of growth and development?

Here’s a short list of the ways God worked through people in the Bible while they were in places of isolation:

  • In the isolation of prison, God helped Joseph overcome bitterness and pride in preparing him to rescue his family from the famine.
  • In the isolation of the wilderness, God developed the heart and patience Moses would need to lead Israel during the exodus and their wilderness wanderings.
  • In the isolation of shepherding, God taught David the importance of worship and knowing the Good Shepherd.
  • In the isolation of famine, God taught Elijah his need to trust God for his daily needs.
  • In the isolation of captivity, God taught Daniel and his three friends the power of prayer and keeping the faith.

This is just a sampling. Throughout Scripture, God used isolating circumstances to get the spiritual attention of his people. Maybe he’s doing that with you and me today.

I reached out to some folks this past week with the question, “How are you managing your isolation?” I received a litany of responses. Here are some of the things people are doing to manage their isolating circumstances: housework, yard-work, serving family and neighbors, FaceTime with kids and grandkids, reading, writing, cooking, gardening, making art, playing music, studying, watching streamed worship services, writing down and sharing inspirational thoughts, walking, praying, exercising, making face-masks for hospitals, spending time with family, playing games, doing puzzles, extra devotional time, and schoolwork. These responses were great! Many of these activities provide natural stress relief. They help us deal with isolation while keeping us from desolation.

What can we take away from biblical examples and comments above to grow during this time of isolation? Here are several recommendation:

  • Set aside time each day to unplug and be quiet. It is tempting to constantly search for the latest COVID-19 update or binge watch tv. And these things aren’t necessarily wrong. But we will grow in the quiet with God. To be quiet and unplug for a period of time each day might require some aid from a spouse. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time alone.
  • Read the Bible and pray. Often, my time to unplug and be quiet is my time for prayer and Bible reading. They go together. Make sure you are reading the timeless and universal truths of Scripture and communicating to the only One who is sovereign.
  • Connect with others through communication. That we are socially distant and isolated does not mean that we cannot have any social interaction. Make time daily to talk to those in your life who matter most (parents, children, grandchildren). Call a neighbor. Text an acquaintance. Message someone you know. I’ve reached out to dozens of people in various ways in the last several weeks. My aim was to encourage them, but I’ve come away from nearly every conversation encouraged myself.
  • Find some good activities to relieve stress. The things people are doing to manage isolation are great. See the excellent list above provided by some of my friends. While all of these may not work for you, I would encourage you to find one (or several) that you can put into practice. Not only are these activities likely to reduce your stress, they can be God’s means for personal growth and development over the next weeks.

This time of isolation does not have to lead to desolation. It can lead to spiritual fruit in your life. By embracing the positives and opportunities of this situation, God can use these days to bring us closer to him. That in itself would be worth the isolation.

If you are in need of prayer or conversation, feel free to reach out. I’m happy and available to pray for you or chat with you. Message me through the social media platform that directed you to this blog or comment below.

Photo by Claudel Rheault on Unsplash