I know it is a few days late, but Happy New Year! My name is Erin, and I am a twenty-year-old studying at Texas Tech University. I truly hope this holiday season has brought you rest and time to be with your family, in whatever way possible. From what I have seen on social media, this ringing in of the new year seems to be happier than the average year. There are lots of messages saying things like “good riddance 2020” or “2020 is over so our problems are solved.” More than anything, I see a strong desire to return to normal. I too share this thought from time to time. To me, pre-pandemic life was a place of comfort and security. Before, I knew I would graduate from college, go on to medical school, and (hopefully) find a boyfriend. And so on., Now, I am not sure what my future looks like. It can be scary.

But here’s the thing: the old normal is dead. Death is an instant separation, and It does not just apply to our physical bodies. And, for the sake of simplicity, I am not talking about the death of our bodies at all. Moments in our lives, once completed, die, never to be experienced again. Pa talks about the Hebrew concept of death as being like a door. One moment you are on one side of the door and in the next you have crossed over. You never go back through the door. So on March 14th, 2020, my pre-pandemic lie died. I walked through the door and am never going back to the way I lived before that day (which in all honesty is a good thing). But there are a lot of things to miss. Traveling. Restaurants. Freedoms. There are of course, things I don’t miss, but we never say bad things at a funeral.

The thing that always hurts me the worst about death is the timing. I know it has to end, but why does it have to end now? Why could COVID-19 not wait until I graduated college? Graduated medical school? Found a husband? Started a family?

These questions are not new. Back in high school, tennis was my happy place. I loved the way the wind blew on my face before I served, the sound of the ball when it perfectly hit my racquet, and the rush of struggling to return a well-placed ball. I loved it so much I would burn my feet from being on the hot concrete during the long summer practiced. Then September 18th, 2018 hit my right in the face. Well, the tennis ball did. I did not think much of it at first—I had concussions in the past and my head wasn’t killing me or anything. I knew something was wrong though when I hit three curbs on the way home. The concussion I received benched me for the rest of the fall. Then, just when I was back on the courts, another concussion from a car accident killed my high school tennis career. I was heartbroken. I had such high hopes. I wanted to go to Regionals, and I felt like my senior season was taken away from me. I don’t think I have ever cried so much or for so long (es, I know I am soft).

I was ready for my senior season to end in April, as expected. But the sudden conclusion in February left me confused and bitter for years. I wanted to go back to the normal I knew before September. I wanted to feel the wind on my face, hear the ball on my racquet, run to return a well-placed shot. However, when I graduated high school, my tennis career died. I walked through the door (or in this case, across the stage), and I was supposed to never look back. But I could not find peace. The death felt unnatural.

Recently, God showed me that I have been focusing on the wrong thing. You see, I have spent all this time in sadness thinking about the death of high school tennis. But what about the life? What about the wins, the memories, the lessons on discipline and mental toughness, the younger girls I could be a role model to? Those things took much longer to build—and mean much more—than the time it took for my tennis career to die. Death matters, but the way we live our lives is more significant. For the first time, that thought brought peace. I could look back and not be overwhelmed by negative emotions. I finally could truly accept the good—the actual good—God did in my life in that moment.

So, this brings us back to the New Year. 2021. That does mean 2020 is dead, but equally so, anything before 2020 is dead. When I refused to see God’s purpose in the death of tennis, I was acting much like the Jews after leaving Egypt. For them, going back was not an option. The only choice they had was to keep following the cloud or perish in the wilderness. And for the Jews, the attitude of wanting to go back to normal kept them from seeing the Promised Land. I learned from my time after tennis that looking back on the old life only brings bitterness. I can be angry at God for starting the journey before I wanted it, or I can trust that anything God does is for a purpose. This includes the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic. And by purpose, I mean that God put the pandemic in my life for good. Whether or not we see the good is irrelevant. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is believing God does good things even when you cannot yet see those things as good. Obviously, my faith was low when I did not trust that the end of tennis was good. However, the pandemic is a new opportunity to recognize that God is still working all things for the good. Truly believing this (not just saying it) helps me appreciate the past and fully focus on God’s future.

Trust me, I am not an expert on journeying through the wilderness. But here is what I do know:

  • Noah did not build his ark in a day. God’s purpose requires consistent work that eventually builds up to something big. Whenever I would begin summer practices for tennis, I could not see my improvement in a week or two weeks or even a month. It was in August, when I could see how long afternoons wouldn’t kill me or how I could beat girls I lost to in the past. Likewise, faith in God’s purpose means that there is work to do.
  • God’s purpose is built by daily obedience. Recently, I have started asking God in the mornings, “what do you want me to do today?” It helps keep me focused on why I am in this new life, not just in the morning but at the end of the day when my personal motivation is gone. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” Every day, God gives me something to do. To accomplish the purpose God has planned for me, I must have the daily discipline of saying “Yes, Lord” and giving everything I have to what God puts in front of me. If I look back, I will fail, much like the Jews in the wilderness. What’s worse is that I will never get to see all the good God has planned for me.
  • Finally, I know to rest in the comfort of God being in control. Ephesians 6:13 says “having done all, to stand.” If I am journeying forward, staying focused on God, and doing everything I know He told me to do, then I can stand confidently. God will take care of everything else.

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, but in 2021 I don’t want to be focused on returning to the comfort of my old life. That life is dead, gone, and no longer good for me. Instead, I want to embrace the wilderness God has brought me to and follow the good He has for me on a daily basis. Being in the wilderness is not up to us, so I encourage you to look forward to what God wants instead of looking back to what you want. Because there is nothing left in the old normal, but God provides comfort and good and peace in the new normal.

– Written by Erin