If I learned anything in 2020, it was that one of the few things I can control is where I focus my attention.
2020 began full of hope and promise. It was the year I would celebrate my 41st birthday and my 20th wedding anniversary, the year I would become a parent to a teenager for the very first time. Personally, I was in the best shape of my life as we rang in the new year. Professionally, I was working with the best and most unified staff team ever. The church was growing and new people were taking their next steps toward Christ every week. My heart was as full as my calendar, with so much excitement and anticipation for the good 2020 was supposed to bring.
And then came March. I was taking some personal time for reflection and spiritual preparation, when I first heard the phrase “the novel coronavirus.” In a matter of days we were making decisions that held serious consequences for our teams and the people we lead each weekend, as we navigated the church through unprecedented times. Like the rest of the world, we went into quarantine, assuming the threat would quickly pass and life would return to normal.
But those hopes soon faded and we began to ask how we could pivot and continue to carry out our mission – even from a distance.
While the challenges of leading the church continued to grow, personal challenges came as well. Schools closed, our kids came home full time, my wife continued pursuing her masters degree full time. Gyms shut down, I had surgery, gyms reopened, I spent a week in the hospital from an exercise-induced event. Birthdays and anniversaries came and went. Trips and plans were canceled, celebrations seemed to serve only as a reminder of all that was supposed to be and yet, was not.
And then there was the news, the endless alerts of a world crumbling around us. Round the clock coverage of all things: covid cases, people dying, wildfires burning in the west, cities burned in protest, social uprising, hope for change, fear of change, politics, elections, a nation in chaos, families divided, opposition everywhere.
Screen time rose with covid cases and following shortly behind were the anxiety levels of so many people. My own included.
If I’m honest, on the darkest of days, I found myself shutting down and pulling inward. Me – a pastor – I wanted to retreat, to hide, to stop interacting, to stop caring. I wanted to focus on the four other people inside my home, the ones who share my last name, and no one else. I was tired. I had never felt this type of pressure. Pressure to be all things to all people. Pressure to speak and also to be silent, to share the opinions of everyone, regardless of the wide breadth of the spectrum, to support causes, to defend causes, and to decry causes. All causes.
And then came, God’s Word. A breath of fresh air, a reminder of my mission: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). That flock began with my family and extended to our church, but there was a border, a boundary, a limit to the flock God had entrusted to me. I did not have to care for every person, but for those God had called me to lead. And I could rest, knowing that God would care for those beyond my boundaries; other pastors would care for those beyond my reach.
This verse was salvation. It restored my focus and helped me recover truth. It was spoken to me when I needed it most, and it anchors my soul to this day.
This, then, is the truth I will take with me from 2020: I cannot control my health, my family, my world, my church, or others. But I can control what I look at, what gains my attention and focus. I can turn from the broken kingdoms of man and fix my eyes on the Kingdom of God. I can return, again and again, to His Word. And I can say “yes” to His calling on my life.
This 2021, where will you focus your attention? Will you turn from earthly kingdoms and set your hope on the Kingdom of God? Will you listen for His calling and His alone? In a world of chaos, the calling of God is our clarity and our comfort, and in the end, His Kingdom will be the only one standing.