Waiting On The Year to End - A Pastoral Note by Jenny

Dear friends,

“I can’t wait for this year to end!”

Overheard in numerous places

I understand! Yesterday I ‘woke up’ to the fact that we are now near the end of August. Part of me cries out - “What? August already?” whilst another part sighs - “Is it only August?” The year thus far has felt so long in a way that seems particularly unexplainable. And at the same time, it also seems to be marching to an increasingly rapid drumbeat. I feel exhausted and raring to go at the same time.

There are some things from this year that I want to put behind me, to relegate to a seldom-accessed box in my memory. Possibly under padlock and key so I am not tempted to open the lid and look back, remembering the pain and heartache, the grief and struggle this year has been for … well, for the vast majority in the world, it seems.

In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens - was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” which (as we all know!) translates as “Out of life’s school of war - what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Perhaps you might also cry out with me: “Oh my God! Am I not strong enough already?” Even Jesus cried out in the garden of Gethsemane: “Remove this cup from me…” (Mark 14:36). He had had enough. The pain was too great. The suffering was too real. And he just wanted it to go away. I have prayed that prayer. I am sure you have also.

“What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Except that it’s not true.  Or not entirely true, anyway. Sometimes the troubles that beset us are so persistent, so invasive, so pervasive, that they weaken us bit by bit until we have no resistance left. Until we have to succumb. I have experienced that with cold and flu symptoms (in years gone by, I am so incredibly grateful that I have remained well this year). The sniffle or sore throat starts up. I “soldier on” as best as possible, recognising the increasing tiredness and what feels like laziness but is really my body crying out for rest and a chance to get better. As I keep going, the symptoms get more severe, until I simply have to stop and give myself time to recover. The symptoms hadn’t killed me, but neither had they made me stronger. (Of course, we could start a discussion on the body’s immunity system — but I am not a medical person. And any analogy will have its weaknesses!)

Perhaps helped by the media, we are tempted to lump so many events of this year under the label of “2020.” And the consequence of that might be that we start to think “I can’t wait for this year to end.” As if somehow, magically, on January 1, 2021 we will wake up and the world will be completely different and all the suffering that has been endured through this year will be finished. Perhaps our rational selves know that it won’t and can’t work that way, that New Year’s Eve is not the end of what we have encountered in this year, and New Year’s Day does not mark the beginning of a ‘whole new world.’ However, our hopeful selves might still secretly be wishing for a finalisation of what this year has brought, and we will have a fresh and brighter start for the year ahead.

In so many ways I feel weak right now. I feel pummelled from all sides by events and situations beyond my control. And I don’t feel like any of it is going to make me stronger! So, what I am learning — again and again — is that it is not my strength that counts. I don’t have to be strong to survive this year, and whatever next year and subsequent years might bring. More than that, I don’t have to be strong to thrive (to flourish, do well, grow…). What I need to do, what we all need to do, is find strength beyond ourselves. We find it in community, in our relationships with one another. And mostly we find our strength in our relationship with and reliance on God. It is expressed cogently in 2 Corinthians 12, where God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).

There is no assurance that next year will be any “better” than this year. There is no guarantee the seemingly extraordinary suffering and hardship we’ve encountered this year will end by December 31, 2020. We are assured, however, that God is with us in the midst of the messiness and struggle in our living, standing alongside us, and leading us forward. I pray that each of us might lean on God, faithfully placing one foot in front of the other as God walks with us into the future — whatever it will bring. As we tread this journey together, may we find God’s strength within us.

Blessings and peace,