Earley: Aren’t you glad 2020 is over?

After Christmas I heard countless people ask, “Aren’t you glad 2020 is over?” The appropriate response is to nod your head in a knowing manner as if everyone is in agreement on how everything will start to get better in 2021. So I started asking the question differently, “What do you expect to change in 2021?” The cold reality of this question can hit home quickly. Viruses, quarantines, racial injustice, economic struggle, political division, depression, alcoholism, child abuse, and the many other problems we faced on December 31, 2020 are all still there. Our country is very divided on how to solve those problems. I close this gloomy paragraph with this thought, “Like 2020, 2021 will be what we make it!”

It has been a rough year for every group except one. In November 5–19, 2020 Gallup polled a little over a thousand Americans over the age of 18, and their results showed that mental health improved for only one group of people during the coronavirus pandemic. Only those who attended religious services weekly saw a positive change between 2019 and 2020 in how they rated their mental health. In 2019, 42% of Americans who attended religious services weekly rated their mental health as excellent, the poll showed. In 2020, 46% of Americans who attended religious services weekly rated their mental health as excellent — a percentage increase of four points.

No other demographic group in the Gallup poll, which had a margin of error of ±4 percentage points and a confidence level of 95%, saw a percentage increase in rating their mental health as excellent. 34% of Americans say their mental health is excellent, down from 43% in 2019. (https://t.co/kjobkuEEVD pic.twitter.com/U6mPW54ZSt, GallupNews (@GallupNews) December 8, 2020).

As we begin a new year I want to share two lessons from the quarantine. The first is that we were made for relationships. The Bible gives us many examples of the importance of relationships in our lives. We read in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” One of the worst things that has happened during this quarantine has been the isolation it has caused people to live through. This isolation has been devastating to the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of millions of Americans. The effects may take years to heal, or may never be healed…

Unless you have faith in God, and turn to God and His church to bring healing, hope, relationships, and clarity to your complicated and chaotic life. When I look back on 2020 I will never forget some of my most meaningful prayer experiences in recent years. People have been more receptive to talk about their faith and how it relates to hard life choices the quarantine has caused. I had more time to work on my marriage and my family. Financially, I was blessed richly as my congregation was able to pay me regularly and the government sent me money as well. When I look ahead to 2021 I am very optimistic because I am going to continue to grow in my relationships with God, my wife, my family, my church family, and my friends.

Throughout the quarantine I have practiced what I have been preaching, “Keep your focus on Jesus!” Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I can honestly say that my love for God has opened the doors for God to bring good in all things in my life in 2020. I expect my love for God to do the same in 2021.

The first two lessons from quarantine are stay connected with people (and get back to church as soon as possible given your specific health concerns and limitations), and stay focused on Jesus and growing in your faith. In the weeks to come I will look at other lessons dealing with discipline, fear, and faith.

Are you too isolated so that the effects of the coronavirus are worse than actually getting it? How are your relationships doing? What are you doing to stay focused on Jesus and growing in your faith? How has your prayer life deepened over the past year? What do you want to do differently this year than you did last year?

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see www.lagrangepres.org.