“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
The sun is setting on this first cold day of January, and off in the West the cool hues of purple brush across fading magenta clouds on the horizon, giving way to a pale blue sky and growing indigo as night crawls in from the East. Each day holds out its own peculiar majesty when we open our eyes to the splendor that suffuses all of God’s creation. Yet, at the same time, the world is in the midst of a cycle of chaos where old certainties are falling by the wayside and the unknown opens up its ominous mouth and seems set to swallow us in a future where everything is in flux. I was reflecting on these things today in God’s presence as I consider some of the big open questions I am facing in my own life, and as that was happening God began to impress upon me how these big, even global dynamics are also affecting others. I found it rather encouraging as I was looking into the year to come. Inasmuch as I believe this can be helpful to others, I will share my reflections based on what I believe he has shown me. While I am a Christian (of a fairly odd stripe), this wasn’t only for those who are part of the Christian community, so I will try to keep this as general as possible and avoid complicated Christian theological jargon. Hopefully this will resonate with the people it is supposed to.
The main idea that God was communicating to me was that in 2021 things are going to get better and they are going to get worse at the same time. Such is the nature of our world today, especially in the wake of this global pandemic that has disrupted our lives to such an alarming degree. For many 2020, and perhaps several years prior was a season where everything was being torn down to the foundation, and so many have endured tremendous loss in this past year. These kinds of seasons in life can be so painful, but they can also be singularly transformative as God lovingly invites us to grow in the face of difficult circumstances, teaching us to have courage when we are otherwise tempted to despair. That’s where a lot of us have been in 2020, and in some sense the difficulties that we saw emerge in the world this past year are going to take many years before they come to resolution and balance. So, I want to encourage those of you who have been going through tough times to not loose heart, and to not get knocked off of your foundation if you encounter difficult circumstances in the coming year, because alongside of this I saw God doing something quite surprising in the middle of our chaotic world.
2021 will also be a year of formation and building for many who have weathered the storm of 2020 and are gaining new insight and perspective. Typically, the way we enter in the new year is with the hope of renewed prosperity, health, and love – and none of these are particularly bad hopes at all. However, with this hard-won new perspective, many are seeing abundance, wholeness, and connection in an entirely different light that cannot be shaken even when finances are scarce, when we are painfully aware of our own limitations and even brokenness, and when relationships are supremely challenging. With this new insight many have learned that flourishing is possible in less than ideal conditions, I saw God leading many people to build with goodness, beauty, and truth in their own lives and communities. These new structures were being constructed on an enduring foundation and they are resilient and built to endure even in the face of hardship. So, if this resonates with you, do not be shy about building with confidence in the face of uncertainty – cultivate the practices of the heart that will keep you on a firm spiritual foundation and close to God. At the same time where you see goodness emerging in the world, build into this with others with the wisdom that experience has taught you – this kind of building is empowered by love and a deep sense of mutuality. This comes from the vitality at the heart of Jesus’ teaching that we are called to love God and love our neighbors, and that from this we can shine in a world that seems so full of darkness.
Along with these things, and in the face of this chaotic world, I saw God calling many to build and reimagine what community can look like – in a very real sense much of this year will be about finding your spiritual tribe and building lasting ties there that will be fruitful well beyond 2021. But finding your tribe isn’t about tribalism, it is about finding a particular expression of a larger family. In his letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul describes how he prays to the Father who is the source of every family in the cosmos (i.e. in the heavenly dimensions and here on earth), and that from this One that we call Father we all derive our names (Ephesians 3:14-15). The family of Israel was also composed of twelve tribes who were all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – meaning that this diverse collection of tribes were all deeply connected to one another. However, the Bible tells a story of this family often in disarray and filled with painful conflict for any number of reasons – but I submit that the chief areas of breakdown in this family is that they failed to love God and each other as they were called to. So, even as you feel called to build into communities of kindred souls, do remember that tribes are great, but tribalism can destroy a family. This means building as communities in two directions: 1) build communities with inward depth that are filled with grace and truth and love; and 2) build communities with an outward reach toward other tribes that are often quite different than your own with the same sense of love and mutuality that you find in your tribe.
This means being an agent and agents for change and reconciliation wherever it is possible. It doesn’t mean don’t speak honestly or truthfully to the wrongs you see in other tribes, but it does mean if you are called to speak to these matters, speak in love so that truth has space to be heard. God is love, and to speak to the world on his behalf, even if it is a difficult and challenging word, is always to speak from a posture of love. Right now there is so much tension in the world, and probably will be for some time, but the sign of a healthy spiritual community or tribe is that it is not merely an echo chamber for like-minded people sharing the same set of grievances, it is expressed in both diversity and unity and a willingness to come alongside other tribes to be a force for good in a world that desperately needs it. These communities will be able to cut through the noise that seems so deafening on the contemporary scene, and bring solutions and perspectives that are hopeful and can enrich the lives of others. So as some of you set out in finding or reconnecting with your tribe, remember to do so lovingly and with a clear sense that you do belong to a diverse family that all live and move and breathe under the care of the same Father.
Without belaboring these points further, in this very general word of encouragement that God has put on my heart, I sincerely hope and pray that this year is one of building the kind of life as individuals and communities that will continue to endure and shine in a very chaotic period in human history. Build wisely, build with hope, build in the face of disappointment and setbacks, because what God is doing in and through those who are willing to take up the task is going to be of such blessing to the world. These are dark times, but we are not left without Light. Keep pressing onward and fare foreword my friends .
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.