By Elizabeth Tamez
I remember the day I received my first 2020 Christmas card. You won’t believe who it was from – Ryan Reynolds – yes, the Hollywood actor! I enjoyed sharing the card with my friends. And yes, they were envious and wondered how I managed to get a card from him. I had a little fun teasing them even further by sharing that from time-to-time, he also sends me texts and voicemail messages. More on this later.
The message on the Christmas card immediately struck a chord! In line with Reynolds’ sense of humor, it read: “Cheery and Bright” have taken the year off. Introducing the 2020 appropriate “Reflective and Moody” Holiday Card! So… here’s to 2021!” This got me asking: How was 2020 for you – reflective? moody? Have cheery and bright taken the year off? Was 2020 a year lost or perhaps a year gained?
Reynolds’ card prompted me to reflect on these important questions. I invite you to do the same.
The Bible in Luke 6:45 highlights: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” What is my heart full of?
Although it is in our nature to avoid hardships, uncertainty, and drastic change, out-of-this-world experiences, like a pandemic, bring to the surface our primal needs…and flaws…and virtues. Challenges have the revealing power to disclose what is inside us and the kind of “filters” we use to see, interpret, and approach life’s difficulties. We either succumb to the struggle or utilize the situation to our advantage. So, 2020 was a perfect revealing year! What did it show you about yourself?
Like for many of us, 2020 was quite the plummeting ride for me. We started the year at New Generation3 (NG3) with a business forecasting plan, which pointed to 2020 as one of our strongest financial years. One by one, the grant opportunities and contracts began to disappear as most programs and grant disbursements were canceled. To top it off, I had to move out of my apartment, and I cannot find a full-time job. Amid all of this – my youngest brother went missing, and his body was later recovered. We did not get a chance to say good-bye. I am sure you have your surreal 2020 stories, too.
As I soak it all in, I know I have the power to choose – will the difficulties of 2020 make me moody? Will these hardships let cheery and bright take a year off? Or will I embrace the challenges as opportunities to be reflective? You see, if you take a pause and look back, let go of that which you cannot control, life can show that perhaps, amid adversity, you were still able to get some things done, learn, and grow – perhaps even important and amazing things!
As I continued reflecting, I noticed that as the list of “positives and lessons” became longer, the less space there was for being moody. I began to appreciate that cheery and bright had not taken the year off and that indeed 2020 was a year gained!
I learned new things, accomplished important milestones, and had my physical needs met when others were not so fortunate. I also worked on some pretty cool projects, which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if hard times had not shown up and I hadn’t knocked on some new doors!
In the midst of family trauma, I also experienced God’s faithfulness, presence, provision, and unfailing love – such a palpable experience with God would not have been likely if I had not found myself in such distress. To some, these achievements could seem insignificant and would merit branding 2020 as “a year lost.” However, in the grand scheme of things, this is the kind of stuff personal growth and leadership are made of!
Much of what we experience, though, is a direct result of what we cultivate in our lives in times of ease and comfort. Galatians 6:7b teaches: “A man reaps what he sows.” Last year, I tackled some key things, and much had to do with the spiritual, leadership, and resilience disciplines and mindsets cultivated during the “cheery and bright” times.
As I evaluated 2020, I noticed that exercising these practices throughout the year made the difference in how I interpreted the circumstances:
- catching myself, and breaking out of negative thought cycles;
- resisting the temptation to catastrophize everything that happens;
- looking for the positive and lessons learned when faced with setbacks;
- exploring obstacles as opportunities to look at a situation from multiple perspectives and build something new;
- strengthening the ability to embrace change and be fluid;
- honoring space to be curious and ask questions;
- and intentionally practicing contemplation to see what the circumstances are revealing.
We are tempted to cope with adversity by telling ourselves “feel-good messages” to cheer us up. But don’t stay there; what did you learn? How will you grow? If we let it be, in the words of Henry Adams, “all experience is an arch, to build upon.” However, to make it so, one must engage in reflection, which leads to action that flourishes in life adjustments.
Do not waste the 2020 experiences and lessons. Use them as fuel for reaching new levels in your spiritual walk and leadership. As leaders, our responsibility involves providing direction to others, being an example, and making pivotal choices. The process we engage with to answer these questions and the answers we obtain will reveal some important lessons we can share with others.
2021 will be just as challenging and unpredictable as its predecessor. Just last week, Texas and other neighboring areas experimented snow and ice storms. So I am preparing myself for what is ahead, and I am choosing early on to make it a year gained. As we navigate this new year, let’s remember what Psalm 89:2 mentions regarding the source of our strength and hope: “I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.”
A promise made is a promise kept. Why does Ryan Reynolds have my address and phone number? Well, you see, he is the owner of the cell phone carrier company I use. He likes to have fun and show appreciation to his customers, so he does these kinds of cool things from time to time.
Rev. Elizabeth Tamez Méndez: Ph.D. is Founder & Executive Director of New Generation3. She also serves as CLLI Board Member & Faculty and is a researcher in the Character & Virtue Development in Youth Ministry (CVDYM) Project from the Fuller Youth Institute /Templeton Foundation. Her Ph.D. is in Leadership, with a concentration on youth development. Her work includes writing, teaching, public speaking, and advocacy.