I snickered in agreement as I read the meme:
2020. One out of five stars. Very bad, would not recommend.
“That about covers it,” I muttered to myself. But as soon as the words left my mouth, conviction filled my heart.
Strange, right? After all, why would anyone feel conscience-stricken about acknowledging that 2020 wasn’t a banner year? It’s pretty much an indisputable fact.
At first, I wanted to dismiss the conviction because it seemed absurd. Instead, I decided to sit with it for a while. As I did, I realized conviction came not from misrepresenting the facts around 2020, but from my attitude toward them.
My attitude was focused on last year’s difficult situations, circumstances and losses. In so many ways, it felt like 2020 robbed us of time and the opportunities that came with it.
Colleges went entirely online. Internships and residencies were put on hold. Graduations, weddings and vacations were rescheduled. We no longer had the freedom to hang out at coffee shops with friends or visit our parents or grandparents. And, if someone we loved got sick, we couldn’t even physically be there with them and for them. I had friends who lost a loved one without ever getting to say goodbye
But what I’d failed to remember as I fixated on the very bad, would-not-recommend moments of 2020 is that time, no matter what it holds, is always a gift from a good God. If He has us living through it, He always has a purpose and a plan for us in it.
God only gives good gifts
Do you have a go-to book in the Bible? James has long been one of my top picks. I love how practical and to-the-point this half-brother of Jesus was in his writing.
One of my favorite statements James was inspired to write is this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
I don’t know about you, but in this constantly changing world we live in, I need the daily reminder that God’s character — His goodness, His love, His faithfulness — is unchanging. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). No matter what a given day or year holds, you and I can be confident that God is still at work in us (Philippians 2:13) and has never taken a break from working all things together for good (Romans 8:28). God doesn’t waste a moment of the time He’s given us.
What’s really interesting is when you read James 1:17 in context. James spends the verses leading up to this one talking about trials, temptations, and the testing of our faith. He discusses the hard stuff and how our unchanging, always-good God can use those things in our lives to produce steadfastness (James 1:2-4). And when he talks about facing difficulties, James doesn’t say if you encounter them. He says when.
As we look back at 2020, we can all identify lots of “testing of our faith” moments. But as James confirms with his when not if statements, difficult situations and challenging moments aren’t confined to one year. We’ve all experienced our share of adversities and frustrations outside of the last 12 months.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to view time as a gift from God when we’re walking through it all. It takes too much effort and hurts too much to try to see God’s purpose and plan in the parts of life we’d rather skip. As James reminds us, though, God only gives good and perfect gifts. He doesn’t hand out white elephant ones. So, while it’s easy to despise and complain about the difficult days, weeks, months and even years and wish away the time, I think God wants us to embrace every moment by choosing to see how He continues to work in us and for us even when life is hard.
Two practical ways to embrace the time God gives you
How can we make the most of the time God’s given us? This includes the difficult, I-just-want-it-to-be-over days. Here are two practical suggestions to get you started.
Conduct an attitude audit.
Unless you’re a CPA, you probably aren’t eager to hear the word audit. I know I’m usually not. So why am I using it here?
Although audits are traditionally conducted on financial records, an audit can be helpful when it comes to our attitudes during difficult seasons of life. According to Investopedia, a “financial audit is an objective examination and evaluation … to make sure that the financial records are a fair and accurate representation of the transactions they claim to represent.”
Similarly, an attitude audit helps you determine what your overall attitude is. Let’s just admit it. None of us are going to have a perfect attitude when we walk through challenging seasons of life. We’re going to have our moments — that’s just life. Don’t beat yourself up. But what an attitude audit helps you do is determine whether a cynical perspective is an exception or the norm in your daily life.
So, how do you conduct an attitude audit?
First, do an internal audit, meaning evaluate yourself. What you think and what you say communicates a lot about your attitude. For a couple of days, be aware of what your internal dialogue is. Ask yourself:
- Am I complaining a lot?
- Instead of determining to make the most of my day, am I actively and regularly dreading things?
- What words am I using when I talk about the challenges I’m facing? Are they honest but hopeful? Or do I tend to be pessimistic and fatalistic?
Second, do an external audit. Since most of us aren’t as objective as we’d like to think we are, it’s a good idea to ask someone you trust for his or her observations and opinion. He or she could start with the bulleted list above, but doesn’t have to be limited to those questions. Ask this individual to be loving but candid about what they’ve noticed about your attitude. Then be committed to humbly hearing him or her out.
Once you have your audit results, determine if your attitude needs some adjustment. If it does, start small. Take it minute by minute and hour by hour. Read James 1, then look for ways you can “count it all joy” (James 1:2). For example, when you feel frustration over having to wait or socially distance from loved ones, thank God for the time He’s giving you to practice patience and sacrifice. As you do, you’ll be making the most of this time.
Seek out “blasts from the past.”
In the 1990s, the “Storm of the Century“ wreaked havoc on Florida’s west coast, where I lived. The house my family rented was on the waterfront, so the superstorm’s high winds and violent waves destroyed hurricane blinds, shattered downstairs windows, and filled our living room with nine-foot waves. It was terrifying!
Because I experienced this first-hand, I used to struggle with Jesus’ response to His disciples when they panicked during a storm. When they wake Him up, He says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). His words always seemed a bit uncompassionate to me — that is, until I started to study the story in its context. Now I see that Jesus’ response may have had a lot to do with the disciples’ attitude and apparent forgetfulness of Jesus’ character.
Before the disciples had gotten on the boat, they’d spent the day witnessing Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, and teach parable after parable about the importance of faith. But when they suddenly found themselves in a situation where they could practice faith, they instead asked Jesus if He even cared. Their exact words? “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4: 38). Neither their memory nor their attitude was stellar.
As my opening story also illustrates, difficult situations can bring out memory loss and bad attitudes in us all, can’t they? Whether it’s living through a year like 2020, feeling like everyone else is getting married and you’re being left behind, or finding yourself discontent and unfulfilled with your current job. But when we decide a cynical or hopeless perspective is OK because the current situation warrants it, we miss out on remembering who God is and how He’s worked things out for good in the past.
So, when it comes to appreciating and living fully in the current not-so-great moments of your life, seek out “blasts from the past.” Take the time to remember specific moments when God proved himself faithful — and remind yourself that He will be faithful to you again. How can you be sure of this? Because, as James 1:17 reminds us, God’s character is unchanging.
If you’re really struggling with this, one practical tip is to create visual reminders for yourself. For example, change the screensaver on your laptop or phone to a picture that reminds you of a time God came through for you. Or, if you’re old school, put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror that does the same thing.
New year, same God
As I write this, I wish I could predict that 2021 will be a better year than 2020. But I can’t.
What I can say with confidence is that the same God who helped James’ readers through their trials, temptations, and the testing of their faith will continue to do the same for you and me.
And when we take the time to audit our attitude and seek out blasts from the past, it helps us make the most of the time He’s given us. Which means that even when 2021 brings challenges of its own, we may just be able to say: 2021. Five out of five stars. God was faithful in it.
Copyright 2021 Ashleigh Slater. All rights reserved.