Why I’m Finally Ready to Declare ‘Happy’ New Year
I know I’m late to the party but I think I’m ready to celebrate the New Year now. If you just took your Christmas decorations down last week (or if they are still up), don’t you dare consider judging me. After all, if we can celebrate milestone birthdays for an entire month, surely we can accept a New Year’s celebration on 2.1.2021.
In addition to being aesthetically and numerically pleasing on the calendar, today is also a Monday and the first day of Black History Month. What better time to revisit the New Year’s Eve traditions I abandoned at the end of 2020 because… well… I was just so grateful to make it to the end of an unprecedented year?
But I was also exhausted. And sad. And anxious. And lonely. And overwhelmed. And underwhelmed. And wounded. And scarred. And…
Although I sat in a spotless house with a journal and my collard greens and black eyed peas ready to go when the clock struck 12 a.m. on 1.1.2021, instead of shouting “Happy New Year!” to friends and loved ones, I remained on my knees where I had been praying and began to sob. And I wasn’t just crying about the state of the world, I was mourning the state of my heart.
You see, New Year’s Eve is typically my absolute favorite holiday. But my 2020 started off with a literal bang when, just hours after working through some of my NYE traditions with friends, the car I was in got slammed into by a drunk driver and spun out of control until it crashed into a concrete wall. I spent the first day of the year in a hospital, in excruciating pain, and then high off painkillers.
For the rest of the year, I would think back to that day — Was that a foreshadow of what was to come? Sickness, pain, grief, and mind-numbing escapes to deal with it all. Like so many, I had high hopes for 2020, but the series of unprecedented events just kept knocking the wind out of me every time I tried to stand up and fight for those hopes.
A drunk driver. POW. A pandemic. POW. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. POW. Lost friendships. POW. Never-ending work from a place that should have been safe. POW. A contested presidential election. POW. A rapidly rising pandemic death toll that included people I personally knew and loved. POW.
As the days crawled closer toward the end of the year, I began to battle with severe anxiety. But it wasn’t concerning the circumstances I just listed; it was anxiety about hoping for the future. After 2020, I thought, what is the point of a vision board? When the world demonstrates how fragile it is, what is the point of a New Year’s resolution? Wasn’t the simple act of making it to another year enough?
I even struggled to prepare for my annual Daniel’s Fast, a 21-day corporate fast that many believers participate in at the beginning of each year for clarity, vision, and purpose. After an entire year of living through not knowing what to expect, I realized that I was struggling to live with expectancy.
And that scared me.
Because hope and faith join love to be the three foremost qualities that believers have to cling to (1 Corinthians 13:13) — it’s what sets us apart. How can we embrace and share the good news without confident expectation?
On Bringing Vision into Focus
In the early days of January, I found myself weeping while watching the news and wistfully snacking on sweet potatoes and whole-ingredient PB&Js in an effort to fast. It was a brutal time of prayer and fasting, and what felt like my desperate last attempt to fight for hope. I was honest in prayer and lamented how hard it was to look forward to anything good when you are so burdened to pray for all the bad things to end.
That’s when God gave me my word for 2021: expectancy.
In previous years, I had no issue making New Year’s resolutions and adding magazine cutouts to a vision board while declaring that I was “writing the vision and making it plain,” heralding those words spoken by the prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:2). It’s a bit embarrassing to reveal that I never paid much attention to the circumstances under which Habakkuk was writing.
When my small group launched our latest study on Habakkuk around mid-January, I was blown away by how directly his complaints spoke to our current circumstances (Hab. 1:2–4 CSB):
How long, Lord, must I call for help
and you do not listen
or cry out to you about violence
and you do not save?
Why do you force me to look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.
This is why the law is ineffective
and justice never emerges.
For the wicked restrict the righteous;
therefore, justice comes out perverted.
In response to Habakuk’s complaint, the Lord tells him to look and watch and wait to be utterly amazed, because he is going to do something that Habakkuk wouldn’t even believe if someone told him (Hab. 1:5). In essence, the Lord was telling Habakkuk to live with expectancy — not simply because things were so awful that they had to get better, but because in spite of those circumstances God was still sovereign.
This was the faith check that I needed. This was more than enough reason for me to fight to procure my hope — a confident expectation that in spite of what 2020 turned out to be, 2021 could still be utterly amazing. Not amazing as in, ‘the year that all of my dreams come true,’ but amazing as in, ‘the year that I don’t miss what God is doing.’
No, 2020 was not the year that I had hoped it would be, but it was a year that is teaching me to reevaluate the purpose of vision, and why it’s important to be clear, and why we must be prepared to run with it. It was the year that revealed to me the value of friendships and community. It was the year that demanded deep spiritual contemplation, meditation, and being still.
It was the year that brought my vision into focus.
So, although I’m a bit late to the party, I’m glad I’m here. Because the God I know and love specializes in exchanging joy for mourning, beauty for ashes, and praise for despair (Isaiah 61:2–4). And, well, even when it seems like there’s not much to look forward to, isn’t that something?
Last night, as I prepared to countdown for the New Year (take two), I was tickled with excitement. I can’t believe I almost let the enemy rob me of a chance to celebrate all that God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. And I was reminded that even when we feel like we’ve reached the end of our rope, God is just beginning.
Always beginning. And always completing. Just like the stroke of the clock at midnight closing the door on one year and ushering in the next.
Happy New Year!
P.S. — For an extra dose of hope, read Ephesians 1:15–23, upon which I am certain that good feels will rise up inside of you and remind you that, in spite of giving it a pretty good shot, 2020 did NOT win.