Spiritual Reflections on a Painful Year
Somebody once said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” But this year, we have lost many lives. Over 330,000 people in our country started 2020 with absolutely no idea that a novel RNA virus would bring their life to an abrupt end. Whether they died “from” Covid-19 or “with” Covid-19 really doesn’t matter. They are no longer here. Their families are left grieving.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is fragile, unpredictable, and should not be taken for granted. Christmas is now over and we only have a few days left in a year that we will certainly never forget. We can’t turn the page quickly enough.
In addition to the devastating loss of life, what else will we remember? Kobe Bryant’s tragic helicopter crash? An impeachment hearing? A devastating tornado that ripped through the heart of Nashville in March? Shelter-at-home orders? The stock market plummeting, and then recovering? Trillions of dollars given in federal aid? The sickening death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers? Racial tension? Riots in the streets? Cities burning? Black Lives Matter protests? Working from home? Homeschooling our children? Botched responses to Coronavirus? The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A toxic election? The confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett? Vaccines produced in record time? A President who could not accept losing an election because ultimately, he could not get out of his own way?
What will come to mind years down the road when somebody mentions 2020?
In addition to the pain, loss, grief, and struggle, hopefully, we can look back and realize that we all became emotionally stronger, mentally tougher, and learned more about what really matters. At the end of the day, why do we do what we do and for what purpose? To quote Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level, “It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life.”
One thing we know for sure after this year is that community matters. Connection matters. We are not meant to live socially distanced because we count on each other for meaning.
In a book he published shortly before his death last month, renowned Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Living in a consumer society inflames our discontent. It feeds our sense of inadequacy. It encourages us to make comparisons with other people. Social media in particular has created entirely new sources of unhappiness.”
If we could consume, tweet, and Instagram our way to happiness and meaning, we would have already done so. That simply doesn’t work.
So what’s the greatest spiritual lesson from 2020? I conclude that it’s the ongoing reality that relationships matter most. As Jonathan Haidt argues, our happiness and meaning come from “between.” We simply cannot do it alone, and we cannot do it disconnected. A year of being socially distant for the sake of public health has been painfully necessary, but has also reminded us that we simply are not wired to live that way. The happiest and most fulfilled people in this world have mastered the art of relationship building. It’s that simple.
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