Ken (not his real name) and I sat in my living room on a recent Sabbath afternoon reflecting on happenings around the world.
Ken took a deep and heavy sigh and breathed out, “2020 has been the worst year of my life!” His painful observation probably rings true for millions of others.
This has been one of the toughest years this century. A pandemic that has now become a cliché about suffering individuals and communities, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost loved ones; fear and uncertainty for one’s own health and life; loss of sources of income and livelihood; social isolation and loneliness; increased tension in homes, resulting in higher domestic violence and divorce.
Apart from the pandemic, we’ve witnessed unprecedented social unrest because of social injustices suffered by minorities and the disenfranchised, increased racial and social tensions even in democracies as stable as the United States. So much uncertainty about tomorrow. Gloom and doom! The list is long, and none have been spared! These are unprecedented times.
Is Thanksgiving worth celebrating this year? What kinds of conversation will surround Thanksgiving tables? Or maybe we should just cancel Thanksgiving altogether. . . . While you don’t need another cliché, looking at the glass half full, rather than half empty, running the risk of seeming to ignore the tremendous hurt and pain of those that have lost loved ones, a job, or even their home, I still dare to say God is in control. There is a silver lining to all this as, across the globe, we watch and read individual and corporate reactions to the impact of the novel coronavirus.
On a hot summer afternoon the dehumidifier labored away, waging a losing battle against the heavy humid air made worse by the cooking in three pots on the stove. The floor fan blew furiously. Someone turned on the microwave fan, and everything in the kitchen went quiet. In our effort to cool down the house and cook at the same time, we had overloaded the electric line, tripping the main breaker switch. We stood there for a few seconds, wondering what had gone wrong. Then I remembered that when electric lines are overloaded, the built-in safety system automatically switches off the line. The solution was an easy fix. Reset! Turn back on the switch for this specific line.
The global pandemic has created a “come to Jesus” moment for hundreds of thousands.
The year 2020 is the year of the reset switch. It’s the year when all things in our personal lives and in society have been brought to a standstill. Stopped! Yes, it’s the time when everything has ground to a halt. All the sensory overload has been brought to a halt. All the crazy demands of life that have sapped our mental, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual energies intensely and unceasingly have been reset.
The global standstill has forced us to see and consider that which we normally wouldn’t. We have been forced to stop and face our demons, biases, habits built over time, decisions delayed, or the very habit of procrastination itself. The too-busy-to-deal-with-it option has been taken away. We cannot escape to our comfort zones anymore without having to deal with the evidences before us of the trajectory that our personal and corporate lives have taken over time. We’re been forced to stop and, in the silence, consider whether we’ll continue in the same direction or chart a new course for our lives. Once the reset switch is hit and the silence is gone, what new path will we create?
The global pandemic has created a “come to Jesus” moment for hundreds of thousands. This has been a moment for personal and corporate awakening. Internet searches about biblical prophecy and the second coming of Jesus are at an all-time high. There’s an awakening, a thirsting, a questioning about the meaning of life, and the significance of this once in a lifetime event. We have been forced to face the reality of our mortality and the shortness of life, the inevitability and unpredictability of not just our own death but that of our loved ones as well.
Although fear has been real, yet a certain confidence and grounding happens when we settle our hearts in the blessed hope of promised resurrection, and the return of our Savior. His promises become real: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
Church as we know it has been redefined. The center of worship has shifted from church buildings into homes. I remember how fearful some were about “losing” members since the worship centers were the heart of worship. Families have had to become intentional and creative about their worship experience. What could have become a mundane, once-a-week routine is evolving into a dynamic, personal, and intentional experience for individuals and families. Satellite worship centers are becoming a thing.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘eight to five’ craze is not really necessary for life to go on,” a colleague recently confessed to me. We suddenly have more time on our hands than we’ve had or were used to. No more rushing out early in the mornings before the sun is up to beat the traffic. No more two to four hours stuck in traffic, no horns blaring out of frustration or road rage.
Organizations are not just discovering, but have had to face the reality that proximity doesn’t always equate to productivity. A lot of time and resources can be channeled to other worthier ventures, making more savings from remote working. Work as we know it is being redefined.
The sudden stop has brought into our social lives a silence that was so long marred by the daily buzz. Opportunities have been created to reconnect and rebuild estranged relationships. Couples, families, and friends have time to actually think about each other. Ironically and sadly, domestic violence and divorce have exponentially increased, many possibly discovering that they’ve become strangers. Thankfully, some have seized the opportunity to reset relationships. The Lord promised He would “turn the hearts of the parents to their children” (Mal. 4:6). I cannot think of a season I’ve spent as much quality time with my wife and children. A time to bond and rebuild relationships, to create and re-create memories. A time to work on rebuilding lost family traditions such as eating together, worshipping together, and having fun together.
There is an intentionality about reconnecting with friends. The usual rush through social media posts has morphed and grown into actual phone and video conferencing. Families and friends have created social online groups to regularly meet, converse, and pray together; distance and time zones no longer hinder. Reset: there is a revival of relationships.
In the silence of the global lockdown billions got a front seat view of what a modern lynching looks like in the brutal snuffing out of George Floyd’s life. The whole world exploded into demonstrations that continued for weeks and months.
Wherever individual sympathies may lie, there is an increased social consciousness about injustices taking place around us. We are forced to acknowledge, face, and deal with our own quiet or unconscious biases. The world, church included, is faced with the choice to reset to a new normal: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?” (Micah 6:8). What once seemed like far-fetched ideology has become core to our church’s existence as an entity: by our unity the world will know (see John 17:21).
In early April, as countries shut down, global carbon emissions declined 17 percent compared to 2019.* Reports of clearer skies and cleaner air in Asian countries spoke to the possibility of living in a cleaner environment. For a moment the earth had
a breather. Deserted cities without traffic and noise pollution allowed for animals to roam about more freely. Bird sounds previously drowned by the din of traffic could be heard. Some zoos even reported animals mating that previously wouldn’t. The apostle Paul’s words ring true, that even creation “groans” for redemption (Rom. 8:19-23).
Thanksgiving 2020 may be unique. The opportunity to sit together with loved ones at the table, enjoying the smell and taste of wonderfully prepared food, the gift of health and life, and the privilege of social connectivity are but a few of the myriad blessings we’ve taken for granted for too long. I’m starting my Thanksgiving 2020 by thanking God for the reset buttons in my life. Want to join me at my table?
Stephen Apola is associate director of the Publishing Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.