When 2020 started, I jokingly called it our year of jubilee. My husband and I were celebrating 25 years of marriage, and we were going to make it a special year. I set my sights on a year to rest, celebrate and treasure the gifts we have been given. We had a few special things planned, including an epic adventure of a lifetime anniversary trip.
So much for making plans.
As the year wore on, the disappointing restrictions kept piling up. We finally cancelled that trip of a lifetime and celebrated our anniversary at our kitchen table. I told myself and anyone who would listen that I would rather be married to this amazing person than go on any amazing trip. It was deeply true for me. Maybe someday we’ll get the trip—maybe not.
Plans are fragile. I’ve always known this truth. In fact, I can quote you James 4:15 right now: “Instead you ought to say, ‘if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” And while I can quote this verse and I absolutely believe it, I’m not sure I really believed it. What 2020 revealed to me is that deep down I thought I had a lot more control over my life than I really did.
Of course, it wasn’t just the anniversary plans that were dashed. There were so many other losses. Like, my daughter who graduated from college in piano performance and was weeks away from her pinnacle achievement of a solo concert. She had spent countless hours perfecting pieces I can’t even pronounce and in one swift moment it was cancelled. Then my parents got COVID. It got really severe, and I couldn’t get on a plane to go see them or care for them. I felt stuck, angry, and helpless. Not to mention that my husband works for an airline, and with no one flying and job losses too high to count, we were thankful to just receive a pay cut. And that’s just a sanitized sampling of my year. The hits kept coming… you know them because you experienced them too. There were so many losses, some tragic and some just sadly inconvenient.
The experiences of this last year renewed my awareness for how fragile my plans really were and helped me recenter myself on the only thing that was certain in my life—my faith in God.
As a pastor and Bible study author, that probably sounds odd. Shouldn’t I have already been focused on God? Yes. And truthfully, I was. But 2020 had a way of revealing blind spots I didn’t even know were there. I did trust God, but I also started to see how I was relying on my own efforts and planning a little too much. This awareness brought about two changes in me. First, my plans became more open-handed. They were open-handed because I was looking to the Lord in a new way to see if these were his plans—or just mine. This brought new freedom and peace to me. If it was the Lord’s will, it would happen. If it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t.
Second, as a pastor and author, I was different in how I received others and how I ministered to them. I understood dashed dreams, unrealized hope, and deep pain in a new way. Not that I hadn’t known these things in the past, I most certainly had. But this time I felt a more kindred spirit to my brothers and sisters who were traveling hard roads and experiencing fear about their future. I started to speak and write as a fellow journeyer not as someone who had gone before and figured some things out to pass back. My words became filled with more compassion and more hope. And I saw that these types of words were more needed than they ever have been.
We’ve gone through a collective trauma in 2020 and as I look forward into the rest of 2021, I have hope that better days lie ahead of us. But I also know that we can’t control when or if those days come to fruition. And neither can you. What we can control is our words and how we use them. I am choosing to use them to speak hope and life. May you do the same. Because our little world needs a lot of hope and life spoken over it.
Jodie Niznik is the women’s and adult ministries pastor at Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas. Her calling and passion is to equip people to take the next step in their journey with Jesus. She loves to write about and teach scriptural truths in practical and easy-to-understand ways. She is the author of Crossroads: A Study of Esther and Jonah for Boldly Responding to Your Call and Choose: A Study of Moses for a Life That Matters.
To learn more about Jodie Niznik, visit www.jodieniznik.com. She can also be found on Facebook (@JodieGNiznik) and Instagram (@jodieniznik).