This is the one-hundred-eighty-ninth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.

Everyone seems to agree with this simple sentiment: this past year was a difficult year. A shockingly difficult year. An unprecedented difficult year. And they all wonder: Is there reason to hope that the new year might be better?

A photo of a sun rise over a farm

The only honest answer is: it depends. We’ll have to cope with stresses and losses that are beyond our control, but we can indeed have a better year if we make good and wise decisions with what we can control. Some of our losses in the past couple of years were imposed on us, and some, we brought on ourselves.

We can have hope, but not if hope is merely wishful thinking. Hope always leads to a call to action. It is not passive sentiment—it is a powerful engine propelling us toward better days, if we so choose.

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From the Psalms we have both honest distress and powerful hope…

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?”
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

Loss does not need to have the final word. On the other side of loss is the possibility of gain. Seeing the positive is not to live in denial and put a happy face on loss. That never works, and may set us up for a bigger downfall later. This is a time for us to be ruthlessly honest about the losses we’ve experienced, at the same time that we hold the door open for better days ahead. If the past couple of years were horrible for you, admit it. Don’t underplay it and don’t exaggerate it. If these times have not been difficult for you, admit that.

Self-awareness and other-awareness have never been more important. Some people need to grieve their losses, and others (who have not lost much) need to have more empathy than ever for their neighbors who are bleeding. We need fine-tuned sensibilities now, not simplistic social dogmas. We need to look deeply into the social, spiritual, and psychological undercurrents this past tumultuous year has produced. We need to share in the sufferings of others, and then look for healing. And we need truth.

Is it possible that there’s a better year ahead?

Yes, of course! Despite the fact that we may have sudden and unexpected challenges in life, it’s always possible for the days ahead to be better. Hope is not the belief that all our problems will go away, but that we’ll be able to survive and build new strength if our minds perceive reality and our hearts demand what is good.

[Also see – 10 Ways to Have a Better Year in 2021]


[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]

Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

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