Holding Hope for a New Year

We may be at the start of a new year, but that does not mean we leave all of what transpired in 2020 behind—this season will continue to ask much of us. As you’ll hear Dan comment, it’s no surprise we now find ourselves at the “intersection between dread and incredible hope.” While not the typical tone that accompanies a New Year’s podcast episode, Dan and Rachael instead presents us with an invitation to slow down, to be gentle with ourselves, and allow ourselves to taste something of hope.

Episode Transcript

Dan: Rachael, it is 2021 and I have to confess: I’ve never done really well with odd years. I was so excited about 2020 because it’s as round a number as I will ever have in my whole life. And it had to be, of course, one of the worst years in the universe. So I’m actually anticipating that 2021, as an odd year, could be more even than it’s ever been. I know that’s a strange beginning, but as you think about the new year, which again it’s so artificial. We just passed a couple of days, but now we’re talking about 2021. I don’t even want to ask What are you anticipating? I don’t really even want to ask how you’re looking forward to the year because I’ll tell you, I have this intersection between dread! Just dread, and incredible hope. So I want to talk about dread and hope.

Rachael: Okay!

Dan: Yeah, well, I was gonna say, so where does dread and hope take you?

Rachael: Well, I mean, I feel well acquainted with these things. There is a way in which we organized our lives around marking our journey around the sun, which is really what we’re talking about here, right? Like a year, for us, is a journey around the sun. So you know, whether you mark that with your birthday or, you know, the new year, but our last journey around the sun was – robust. To say the least. We were just reflecting on it a few days ago. So that still feels really close to me. But there’s something about a new beginning that does have the potential for a different kind of possibility. I think the dread is connected to, I have no illusions that this year will be any easier than last year. In some ways, we are into a season that I think is going to continue to require and ask a lot of us. And, at least with regards to COVID-19, which has been a main character, a looming presence of dread with us- with the possibility of the vaccine that is becoming available even as we speak- there is a sense of maybe, just maybe, there’s a new possibility for all of us by the summer, obviously well into 2021 but- new possibilities. And so I think with that, in our very bodies, the more we see light at the end of the tunnel with a particular reality, the more we actually feel in our bodies what that reality has been. So when you say hope and dread, I’m like, oh, that feels like a very embodied truth to me. That I feel both the kind of delight and the hope of possibility, and yet the dread of what has been and what might continue to be as it’s taking up residence in my body.

Dan: It’s beautifully said. Do you mind slight crudity to try and make an analogy?

Rachael: Always. Well, I mean, not always. Don’t – don’t get crazy.

Dan: Fair enough. You know, if I’m 20 minutes away from my house and need to urinate, I’m okay. It’s unpleasant, but I’m okay. When I’m maybe a minute away from my home and I have to say things to my body, like, the house may be burning down. All the toilets may be backed up. It’s as if my body is going, “Liar! You know you are near relief.” And that promise of relief is so powerful that the agony that I’ve been in for the 19 minutes prior that was intensified for that last 60 seconds to a point where it’s intolerable. And I’m already seeing that with friends, with family, with clients: people are having such a war with hope without even being aware of the struggle that is intensifying. Yes, COVID is worse. Yes, we are in a deeply polarized political world. But what’s unique is that we’re closer to hope, and therefore, our trauma and agony is actually closer to being resolved at some level, and therefore the agony is even greater. Does that make sense?

Rachael: Oh, yeah. I mean, more than I want it to. I think obviously we’re not- we’re not saying “everything’s coming up roses.” But again, even if we still have to, because we don’t yet know all that will be dealing with and the impact of this season for years to come yet, our bodies know, there’s a different possibility for and again, let me just say, for one reality. Many people are still facing some of the pandemic realities of racism, of socioeconomic, like the collapse of so many people’s financial stability because of this pandemic. And because of, I think, tremendous failures of us to come together in ways that I think were possible. So I’m not saying relief in general is in sight. More just this relief of maybe having new possibilities with how we live our lives, maybe kids being able to go back to school, maybe being able to see each other with a little more safety. Things that again, if you had told us two years ago wouldn’t be a possibility, we would have just been like, “you’re crazy.” It is true that our bodies, then, can enter a different kind of rest, which means they settle into different realities of grief, different realities of loss. You and I were talking about like maybe I’ll get to fly to Seattle and see people sometime in 2021. And there’s something about that that feels “Oh, my gosh, that would be amazing. I never imagined it would be this long,” and there’s going to be so much ache in actually tasting that reality. It’s going to open up my heart to actually feel that I haven’t had that capacity. And so I think it’s the both and. And there’s a different kind of intentionality, different kind of care you have to have in the moment- in this kind of moment, where hope is so close. I hear this a lot from therapists, that in some ways, these are the most dangerous times for hope in our lives, when you can taste something of hope in the midst of what has been really challenging and really painful.

Dan: People often think that there is a higher suicide rate over the holidays. That’s just not true. The potential for self-harm is much higher when you get to February and March. Why? Because spring, especially early spring, evokes this desire for relief from the cold, the wet, the darkness, the isolation. So I think what we’re inviting you our listener to, is yes: There are solid reasons for us to think there will be change in this year. But we’ve got to wrestle with something of our own war with hope. And that’s not just over 2021. That’s a reality that most people have not named, but need to name, because hope sounds so optimistic and “it’s going to get better and things are gonna be wonderful.” And I believe they could be. And we’re going to have to wrestle with the reality of the trauma debris that we’ve really not had the scope or time or capacity to enter. You, Rachael, being a storm-born woman, know what it is to in one sense, hunker down as the storm blows through. But when you come out from your basement or your shelter, that’s when the horror and grief begin to mount, I’m assuming. And in that, what’s it been for you and others, particularly from Oklahoma, who have had to come and face the debris?

Rachael: Oh, I mean, I think this is something you’ve talked about so well in so many different contexts. I’m even thinking about some of the opportunities we had to go to Houston, to do hurricane relief work with faith communities. It’s, in some ways, once the storm has passed and there’s a reckoning of what the cost has been, that the fragmentation sets in. That the numbness, that the, in some ways, the ways our bodies are wired to escape from pain, feelings of isolation. You know, I think what feels hopeful to me is there’s also a sense of at least getting to be together that does not feel true in the midst of the storm. Now, we’ve all found ways to be together. I would imagine most of us have encountered a kind of resilience we didn’t even know we had capacity for. I mean, already, the fall and winter felt so different than those early days in the spring. So there is a different kind of getting to be together as we take stock of sharing of resources. But there’s also a sense of being overwhelmed because, in some ways, and I think that when you have a global pandemic, there’s some sense of, you don’t necessarily have the capacity where some people weren’t impacted by the storm, so they can kind of give resources to you. I think we definitely have that capacity. Because God, God is wanting us to redistribute, to be generous with what we’ve been given. Where there has been pouring out of blessing, that blessing is meant to be given away. But there is the kind of, I mean, I think about being post-tornado. There’s just an eeriness and a strangeness to like, “How did that thing end up over there?”

Dan: Yes. And it will be the time that our bodies really have an opportunity, probably not in the first three or four months, but at some point, May, June, July, August on- where the trauma degree is going to catch up with us. Which isn’t a threat to you. But it’s in some sense, a promise that you need to go gentle into this year. Gentle into hope. I’m not saying be paranoid or shut down, but just to be able to say: tend to hope by not letting it turn against you. As you begin to feel, feel your body suffer, feel your body ache, and even feel your body fear again. I mean, we have been in survival and slightly thriving. We’ve got the potential to do more than survive. But in that, so much of the losses that we’ve all endured, and some almost beyond language and imagination, we’re going to need to tend not only to one another’s hope, our own hope, but the ability to be able to say, “How will we build?” Not just a world that was, because I think that world is over. How to build the world personally? Relationally? Politically? At every level, how do we build the world to come? Because if we don’t make use of this trauma, it will be an even darker mark against us as individuals and certainly as a community of God. We need to make use of this. And if we retrench into polarization, retrench into conspiracy theories, if we, in one sense, fuel hope by enraged accusations against others, I think what’s ahead will look like 2020 was a lollipop. We’ve got major labor to actually begin to ask the core question of, “How do we care?” How do we care for our earth? How do we care for marginalized people who have borne and even greater effect of COVID-19 than many others? How do we care personally, relationally, spiritually, politically, in a different way than we came into the year 2020, and walk through it?

Rachael: I just keep going back to your word, to go gently. And I think some people could hear that like, we’ve been waiting long enough? You want us to wait more? And, I think there’s a sense of, no, we get to be defiant in this year. We get to- we get to celebrate each step of the way. But I think your call, that there is no going back. And I think many people are gonna be tempted to feel like okay, so now we just kind of forget this happened. And we know that because we see that all the time in our work with many people. Like, you know, we’re just gonna pick up how things were and keep going on. And so there’s going to be levels of fragmentation, levels… I mean, we look at what happened after the Spanish influenza of the early 1900s. I mean, the roaring twenties came to follow that. So potential for a kind of seduction into indulgence that is actually seeking to numb, to anesthetize, so that we don’t have to feel. So that’s part of what I hear you saying. And so I think true, biblical hope comes from the groaning. It comes in the time of spring where new life is being birthed in fertile soil. In fertile soil that’s wanting to birth new life. And it is somewhat painful to groan and to labor and to bear hope. And so it’s a strange thing to say we’re going to be more courageous, more compassionate, but we have to do it in our bodies.

Rachael: So that invitation to slow down, that’s not usually how most of us enter a new year. January is usually manic. Gym memberships are up. You have a list of 42 things you’re gonna accomplish. We kind of set new standards for ourselves. And I think the temptation to do that with a kind of possibility, like a vaccine in sight, is gonna probably be even amped up even more. And so I think we have a possibility to say, this is a season for dreaming. But can you move slowly? Can you take into account that your body is still bearing the reality of what we have been living in and will continue to live in for a season yet? Can you be intentional about simple steps of care that will actually have a profound impact? And, can we let our hope actually be something bigger than “we want to go back to Egypt”? Can we let our hope actually be something that, instead of dread, we feel more kind of like the terror, like the holy terror of anticipation, that the Spirit wants to birth new things.

Dan: I love it! It does not do harm to hope. It allows us to hold hope with something of the fragility that we come out of 2020 with, and move slowly into recreating- not what was 2019- but recreating a new world for ourselves and for others. And, you know, as we come to a briefer podcast than normal, I’ll just say that at the end of the year and the beginning of the year, I started asking Jesus, like, is there a thought? A concept? A verse that you want me to hold, at least for a portion of the year, as a compass for what I need to know to grow in the middle of this year? And I came onto Psalm 40 in my reading. And as I read the very last verse- again, who knows what it means to truly say I heard Jesus. But I heard Jesus say, “Oh, oh, notice this!” It was almost like that, “Notice this!” I’m like, yeah? I’ve been pretty attentive to the other 16 verses. And again, something of the statement of “This is for you. This is for you.” And it says, simple as this, “…But as for me, I am poor and needy. But the Lord takes thoughts for me. You are my helper and my deliverer. O God, do not delay.” And I’m not going to try and unpack that, I just want to say: there’s something about desperation. There’s something about the reality of my complaint to God. Don’t delay, don’t delay. I am needy. I’m poor. But that you think about me God, that your thoughts are about me, literally! I mean, you think about me! Oh, my God. Oh, my God. So I know I need to enter this year, in some sense, in the hand of God. And I can’t say to you, you know, ask Jesus what verse, or thought or direction. But I know for me, Psalm 40:17 will be at least my guide. I know I’m needy. And I know I’m poor. But the thought that he thinks about me is so sweet. I need to know that I’m in the hand of God, and that we together have some sense that in the middle of this struggle with hope, that He will hold hope for us, and that we can progress together into this year and truly become who we’re meant to be. And that’s my hope for this year.