Last New Year’s Eve, my four children and I huddled around our annual Christmas tree bonfire on a cold New England night. As sparks flew into the dark sky, I breathed a deep sigh; our horrible year was coming to a close. 2019 had brought my husband’s sudden, unexpected death. When I reflected on the year that was swiftly closing, all I could see was pain and sorrow. In all my life, I’d never been more ready to see the calendar page turn.

That night, we shot off fireworks in the driveway to celebrate the new year. With the stroke of midnight, I believed life would get easier and better. A new, untainted year stretched before me––surely a greener pasture than the valley of the shadow I’d just endured.

I chuckle wryly now as I remember that bonfire and those fireworks that lit up the night. So many hopes went up in smoke in 2020. In March the pandemic struck––a scourge that, as the year closes, continues to ravage communities across the country. Health worries, job strain, economic woes, and racial unrest marked the year I hoped would offer rest and relief. A year ago, I longed for 2020. And as I stand on the cusp of another new year, I’m doing it again.

A year ago, I longed for 2020. And as I stand on the cusp of another new year, I’m doing it again.

Whatever struggles and sorrows have marked your year, I suspect you––like me––have caught yourself wishing for 2021 already. This year, our communities have suffered more than 300,000 COVID deaths, and the U.S. poverty rate continues to rise because of unemployment and underemployment. Add to these the myriad personal challenges that fill our everyday lives––parenting worries, relational struggles, school and work concerns. If we ever wanted to get out of Dodge, now would be the time. No doubt, you’ve seen the “I’m so done with 2020” memes. For most of us, 2021 can’t come fast enough.

As this year closes and another begins, new COVID vaccines promise relief from pandemic illness and death. A new administration vows to heal our country’s wounds. Economists use words like “strong” and “resilient” to describe their forecast for global economies in 2021. We’re starving for abundance, longing to be satisfied. All the world, it seems, is looking for greener grass on the other side of the new year’s fence.

I’m an eternal optimist, so there’s a part of me that loves this hopefulness for the future. But I also know all too well how often I run from hard times. I know my own unhealthy impatience to get beyond my pain and struggles to the easy life I suspect is just up ahead. I know my inclination to bless the Lord when life is good and question him when the path darkens before me. I confess that I pin my hopes on things that never really satisfy. Before I race into this new year, I must ask my soul afresh, “What is your only hope in life and death?

Before I race into this new year, I must ask my soul afresh, ‘What is your only hope in life and death?’

The grass won’t necessarily be greener when the calendar page turns in a few days. 2021 won’t be our Beulah land; we long for a better country. While we know this in our hearts, we must admit it out loud––the coming year will bring us unanticipated joys and sorrows. If we desire greener grass, we need not seek eradication of our pain and sorrow. We don’t need to shake the dust of 2020 off our feet. Instead, we need only look to the Good Shepherd who provides for us in green pastures and beside still waters. The peace and freedom for which we long can only be found in him. Our hopefulness for 2021 springs from the truth that whatever the coming year brings, Jesus will protect and provide for us, giving us joy as we follow close to him.

I have lots of hope for this coming year. I hope that God will bring a swift end to the pandemic. I hope that our country will bind its wounds and experience some peace and renewal. I hope the struggles of this life will weigh less heavily on all our shoulders, that joy would be ours in abundance.

But more than that I pray, whatever this new year brings, that we may know God’s presence more clearly, love him more deeply, and follow him more closely. I trust that God in his kindness will give his beloved church all good things—whether those blessings come to us in a year as easy as we hoped or only through the valley of the shadow.