For those beginning the new decade in pain or grief, here's a word of encouragement

Published 03 January 2020  |  
(Photo: Unsplash/Karim Manjra)

Sometimes it's hard to remember what it was like to welcome a New Year before social media. Resolutions kept to yourself, no lists of 'books I read last year', or total miles run, cycled, walked (or crawled) followed by the intended mile count for next year.

Pondering the new year and reflecting on the past is now a public event with 'my word' or Bible verse for the year.
I have no problem with any of this – be proud of what you have achieved! Set goals as you begin 2020. Reflecting is good, and doing that on social media can help with accountability and encourage other people reflecting about similar things.

This new decade has found me being more thoughtful than normal. I don't do resolutions or have words or texts for the year, but like many on Facebook I posted a picture of myself and my husband 10 years ago. Then I looked back to a photo from 20 years ago, the turn of the century. The picture was taken on a work trip to Latvia. In the photo, snapped secretly by one of our Latvian colleagues, I was happily standing on a very narrow bridge with my husband, a little oasis in a busy week.

This was the year where physically everything started to spiral down, or as I often say, "go south". This simple photo caught the last moments of my ability to move and balance freely. I knew it was coming, having been diagnosed over 15 years before that, but before this I'd always managed to come out of each relapse.

I am at peace with who I am and my disability, but seeing that picture brought back a longing for what was, to go back and be who I used to be.

As I talk to people who also have those defining moments in life, I find that some look back in the hope of being able to be that person again, for things to go back to how they were. It's not wrong and it's part of the grieving process, but it isn't always good to stay there. Others take those defining moments and appear to absorb them and build on them. They are defining moments, but they don't end up being the definitive thing in their lives.

I saw the film 'Inside Out' for the first time last week, and was captivated by it. In holding the memories and joys of the past, the remembering of them will often be touched with sadness, and that's ok. It makes those memories all the more precious. In the story, Joy has to learn to allow sadness to play her part, because this is healthy. It's life and sometimes it can't be 'fixed'.

Some of my friends have had a difficult 2019. Some have lost loved ones, some have had their health and anxiety or difficulties amplified, and others have had their hopes and dreams smashed to pieces just as they were preparing to walk into this new decade. My role in this is not to fix things, but to be a friend – whatever that looks like.

Maybe some of you have had the well-meaning friend who wants you to feel better as you ponder the new year. I did the year I was diagnosed, and was told "God will give you good health and happiness next year". Not helpful when you're facing a disease that won't get better. The person was trying to be helpful, to give me hope, but it was flawed. I needed to find hope in my situation, in God, not in a wishful dream of health and happiness.

It's ok to grieve, to look back and say "well, that year was pants". We need to learn to lament, allow ourselves to yell at God because of the injustice and pain, and yet, at the same time find hope in this God who cares and loves us beyond measure.

As I ponder, I will look back. Sometimes it's helpful as I see the person I have grown to be – often against the odds. Sometimes it's not helpful as I grieve what could have been or what should have been. In those times I've learnt the wisdom of leaving those 'could have/would have' thoughts in God's hands.

In my ponderings, I've been thinking about a song by Rend Collective, especially in light of my phrase about everything 'going south'. It's their song 'True North'. If you, like many, have had a tough year, or even a tough 10 or 20 years, I hope you find the words an encouragement.

For you, they may be words said or sung with your hands clenched, teeth gritted and tears flowing down your face, but in them is true hope. Not hope for what was, but in a God who will stand with you and walk alongside you into the new decade.

I will not let the darkness steal
 the joy within my soul
 I will not let my circumstance
 become my compass, no
 I will not let the fears of life
 and sorrows of this world
 Dictate to me how I should feel
 For You are my true north.

I will not let my failures turn
 into the curse of shame
 I will not walk beneath the clouds
 that taunt me and condemn
 For I will stand on solid ground
 the shadow of Your love
 Forgiven, changed, a heart renamed
 For You are my true north.

Kay Morgan-Gurr is Chair of Children Matter and Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, part of the Evangelical Alliance Council. For more, www.kaymorgangurr.com and on Twitter @kaymorgan_gurr

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