“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
In addiction recovery circles we call it “the geographical solution.” It’s the idea that moving to a new apartment or a new city will give an alcoholic a fresh start and the opportunity to leave behind their hard-drinking habits. I actually had a parent tell me the following about his daughter who had a rough freshman year: “She went to Ole Miss, but that’s just a party school. So we brought her back home to LSU.” I tried hard not to snort. Bringing your child back to the “safe haven” of a different university is not going to solve alcoholism. Of course, she continued to drink and have mounting consequences.
The problem with a geographical solution is that you’re simply transferring the real source of the problem from one place to another. Some people go through multiple efforts at sobriety through geographical solutions, and the result is always the same. They’re just as stunned and remorseful at the consequences of their drinking as they were last year in a different city. It’s like looking in a mirror and discovering that your hair is a mess then changing mirrors. It doesn’t matter what mirror you use or where it’s hanging. You’re looking at the problem.
As we stand on the threshold of a new year, I’m seeing a lot of people invest a great deal of hope that 2021 will be different and better. Perhaps it will. But it’s also possible that these folks are just seeking a chronological solution. Turning the page onto a new year won’t really change anything if we haven’t learned some important lessons from the year we’re about to leave behind. To put it succinctly, COVID doesn’t keep a calendar. And a vaccine won’t change me spiritually.
2020 has been especially challenging for many people. There’s no argument about that. I refuse to go through the litany of challenges again. It’s been established. This has been a rough year.
But 2020 did not catch God off guard. Advent should have been for us a special reminder of the ways God works, of His rhythms, and His patience combined with inexorable grace.
We actually miss the point of Advent if we simply focus on the birth of Jesus. The lectionary for every day throughout that four-week observance has an Old Testament reading either from the prophets or perhaps from the story of David. These readings remind us that God’s been in the redemption business for a very long time. He envisioned this great healing of the nation of Israel, bringing it back together as His people so they could be a light to us Gentiles. We are all God’s children, and God has been working out the way to bring all of His creation back together. That’s salvation history.
God’s plan has been ongoing through innumerable wars, devastating political upheavals, pandemics that make COVID-19 pale in comparison, natural cataclysms, and on and on and on. God is accustomed to working out His plan through all manner of difficulties. 2020 is nothing new.
Our chronic spiritual malady, in part, is the disabling expectation that all things must be going well. We end up treating God as a giant problem-solver. Our faith becomes a baptized form of self-help and self-improvement. Rather than a denial of self that is central to the Christian faith, we engage in just another form of self-absorption waiting for, in this case, the turn of a calendar page so everything will be better.
Frankly, I don’t want to leave 2020 until I’ve learned everything God wants to teach me through these trials. I want to cherish the “sacred now” instead of investing all hope in a supposed better year. I want to retain a slower pace that the enforced monasticism of this year has brought. I want to be a greater part of God’s unfolding plan of salvation for the people who dwell in deep darkness all around me.
Turning a page on a calendar does usher us into a new year. Turning our hearts consistently to God ushers us into a new vision. I’ll celebrate the former, but I really long for the latter.
Lasting solutions have nothing to do with geography, chronology, relationships, finances, fame or any of the other substitutes for God or obstacles to God. 2021 might be the most circumstantially successful year I’ve ever had. I’ll still take a deeper relationship with Christ who knows the plans He has for me. Walking a little closer to the Light remains my most cherished resolution.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 31, 2020