The beginning of a new year is always hopeful, and if there’s one thing we all need after a year of pandemic life, it’s hope. We’ve all been waiting and hoping for so long already – for a vaccine, for time with friends, for hugs from grandparents, for life to get back to normal. And now we’re in the bleak midwinter with its cold and darkness, which many people find stressful in the best of times. When we talk with others on the phone or via Zoom, we can hear the sorrow and exhaustion in their voices and see the weariness on their faces. Many of us feel near or at the breaking point and wonder how much more we must endure.
Throughout the past year, I have thought often of St. Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV): “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” This would be an extraordinary statement even for someone who always led a privileged life, which we know wasn’t the path Paul’s life took, yet he claims to have been content in good times and bad. Probably not many of us can say the same thing, but that Scripture passage has made me think a lot about faith, adversity, optimism, and gratitude, and how they all work together to create contentment.
Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t reveal the secret of being content in all situations, but it, like everything else, must begin with faith. We believe in God’s unfailing love and plan for us to be happy and the most complete version of ourselves, which can fill us with hope and gratitude even when some of the phases on the way aren’t great. Even the best journey has some tedious or downright miserable moments, but the ultimate goal makes them endurable. This pandemic has been months of uncertainty, boredom, grief, and desperation, and it’s not over yet, but it will eventually pass and we will be joyfully reunited with the people and activities we usually enjoy. There are so many terrible losses – 276,000 lives in the U.S. at this point, in addition to all the lost time together – that we will come together to grieve and remember. But these forced months in our homes have also brought the gift of time together, meals at the dinner table, some pause in our normally hectic lives. Maybe Paul’s secret was taking the long view, embracing the losses, relishing the good times, learning through both losses and joys, and giving thanks through it all, never forgetting that life, love, and peace are gifts from God.
May each of us find our way forward through the dark months ahead and into the new year with contentment and gratitude, remembering that God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. Peace, friends.