As January 2021 approached, I noticed a growing trend on social media. People weren’t setting new year’s resolutions. After a year that delivered so much collective heartache and loss, voicing hope or concrete plans for a new year seemed like a pipe dream. After all, we saw firsthand how circumstances can change on a dime. 

I remember feeling a specific numbness early on in the pandemic as I tried to make sense of a global disaster. In the same way we remember a tragedy in what feels like slow motion, my brain struggled to make sense of it all. There was nowhere in my existing knowledge to catalog this new information, and I felt numb. Instead of pouring into my favorite creative outlets while I processed my feelings, I reached for jigsaw puzzles and even a thick volume of logic puzzles — problems I could solve when everything else seemed out of control. Completing those puzzles gave me a semblance of order and structure. 

In her book, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” therapist Lori Gottlieb put words to this hollow feeling I had. She wrote, “People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings, it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings”(9). Overwhelmed, overloaded, overburdened, overstimulated — we can use feelings of the past year to draw closer to the Lord for wisdom and direction, for guidance and reassurance. God will provide whatever we need, just as He always has. 

“This is what the Lord says — he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.’” (Isaiah 43: 16-19, NIV). 

We might be tempted to lament all we’ve lost until it consumes us. While reflection is healthy in moving forward, we don’t need to look back with a constant lens of disappointment. Are we holding on too tightly to our disappointments and missing out on the good life right in front of us? What if instead, we look at our present through the lens of Jesus as we seek contentment in our circumstances?

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV). 

Maybe this is not the time to mark a new year with a long list of new goals. What if the Lord is calling us to seek true joy, the joy that comes only in Him? God gives us permission to seek contentment, slowing down to savor the gifts He has already put in front of us. 

Written by Ashley Bartley

Ashley Bartley is a wife, mom, and school counselor in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She has been featured in The Joyful Life Magazine and on the Kindred Mom blog. She published her first children’s book, Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle, with Boys Town Press (July 2020). Her second book, Opal Octopus Is Overwhelmed, releases Summer 2021.