I didn’t have my theme word in hand on January 1, 2020. And it stressed me out. I’m both sentimental and organized by nature, so I’m usually in my glory for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Yet no matter how I pondered and asked God to reveal my word of the year, I slipped from 2019 without direction. It took two more weeks of fasting for me to hear; it took another two after hearing to respond.
Fitting, since the word He gave me was shema: Hebrew for “to hear and respond.” Or rather, to listen with an open heart to what God says, accept it, and act on it.
“Challenging” doesn’t begin to describe this word, that kind of obedience. It also can’t encapsulate the chasm between my desire to shema and my actual ability to do it.
But hoo-boy does it describe the way 2020 played out.
Between #quarantinelife and the plethora of hardships that have come with it, I’ve struggled more with depression and anxiety in the past six months than the past six years. I’ve never felt more numb, stupid, deaf, or paralyzed, never less capable to hear or respond. I’ve wept tears of need in the dark and scrawled pages of longing for direction but kept silent in hopes of saving my attention and voice for a more important use than “help.”
Looking back on sharing my word of 2019, this leaps out:
I approached this year-end reflection with a sense of failure and shame, having trouble even remembering what transpired in 2020. But looking at shema in those terms, I wonder if I didn’t do better than I thought.
When my husband was still out of work after nearly a year, his unemployment ending and no opportunities landing, I heard God push me. “Go look for work,” He said. “I’ll look.” I agreed.
When I visited our church family in Florida, the one we’d been called to join in ministry and were anxiously awaiting a visa for, I heard God reassure me. “All in,” He said. “All in,” I agreed.
When coronavirus hit and the world stopped, I heard God insist. “Be here now,” He said. “Here and now,” I agreed.
When we were deciding whether our daughter would start kindergarten in person or at home, I heard God urge me. “They need her,” He said. “Send her,” I agreed.
When I was invited to join in stewarding our church’s ministry school, I heard God direct me. “Teach and learn,” He said. “Teach and learn,” I agreed.
When the holidays loomed and my heart wouldn’t stop breaking for homesickness with no cure in sight, I heard God comfort me. “Not yet,” He said. “Not yet,” I agreed.
When my husband looked at me over burgers in the park and said he believed we could do more for the Kingdom here than in Florida, I heard God smile. “You are released,” He said. “We’re released,” I agreed.
When our pastor casually mentioned online ministry and I nearly leaped out of my skin with excitement, I heard God sing. “This is for you,” He said. “This is for me,” I agreed.
Each one of these moments contains a story, rich and deep with meaning and details. Each one a testimony in itself. (Maybe one day I’ll get around to telling them all.)
Together they represent a year of shema. A year in which I frequently berated myself for failing to hear and respond to God’s voice yet somehow still did.
Much was made last January about 2020 being the year of CLEAR VISION!, and a lot of people now feel embarrassed by what they proclaimed as they survey that flaming dumpster fire of a year.
As I sift through memories and emotions from a year I thought I’d failed and would rather forget, I realize that clear vision is exactly what God gave me—gave all of us. By keeping us still without distraction, we had to look to Him to get answers for our outside world, which made our inner world so. much. clearer.
Like I said before, having your eyes adjusted to 20/20 vision doesn’t mean the world is suddenly different; it means getting the correct perspective on what’s been there this whole time.
Which is exactly what happened with my year of shema. Until I sat down on the other side of it, I couldn’t see what was really there.
2020 is over (thank you, Jesus), taking its theme with it. But while there’s a new (doozy) word for this year, this practice of shema, of hearing God’s voice and responding with loving obedience, will stay. Without it, I can’t do anything clearly, much less see the way forward.
So here’s to 2020! Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
And here’s to shema. May it always be my heart’s posture.