Well, technically we didn’t lose it, at least not in the sense of misplacing it. For many in our world, 2020 was their final year of life and a good many worldwide died of COVID-19. If you are still in the land of the living and can read this essay, then, you didn’t lose 2020, although the year might not have unfolded as you expected. Last January, who would have imagined how the year would progress? 2020 was a year of loss for nearly everyone. As we put it behind us, we remember what we have lost, but we also need to reflect on what we have gained. The title of the blog is “So Teach Us to Number Our Days,” Psalm 90:12. If there was ever a time to “number our days,” surely now is that time. Today’s meditation will be divided into two sections— reminders of what we lost and reflections on what we gained. Hopefully, these thoughts will help to prepare us for what lies ahead in 2021.
First, 2020 was definitely a year of profound loss. Starting with the global COVID-19 pandemic that began in February in the United States, the cost in human life has been nothing short of tragic. Sure, some people would have died anyway. In 2016 for example, there were just under 2,750,000 deaths in the United States. A chart from the CDC lists the ten leading causes of death, with heart disease listed first at 165.5 deaths per 100,000 people. According to the Center for Disease Control’s most recent figures, of the 340,000+ US deaths attributed to COVID, 94% had at least one comorbidity listed on the death certificate. The reality is that we will never know why some people died, but clearly, COVID contributed to many deaths, at least in part. We lost family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow-citizens. There is no way of knowing whether or not these people might have died from something else (a car accident, a stray bullet, a house fire, or some other “random tragic event”). But COVID took its toll on human life. Whether or not COVID was manmade, it is clearly a part of the curse. Sin left its marks on humanity. Death and disease are surely among the effects of the curse.
We also lost much more than life through COVID. Most of those who passed lost the comfort of family, families lost the presence of loved ones, funerals were either suspended or had limited attendance. The grief of death caused many to lose the joy of life. Everyday existence was impacted. People lost jobs; businesses closed, many permanently; weddings were postponed or limited. Travel plans were disrupted. My son and his family arrived home from Africa just ahead of the pandemic and lost nearly all of their planned travels to reconnect with supporters and raise additional support. Christians lost closeness with churches. Even for churches with online meetings, much was missing—fellowship, encouragement, presence. Thanksgiving and Christmas were downsized or celebrated in atypical ways. Businesses that didn’t close lost income, forcing employees to seek other ways of meeting personal expenses. Children lost their educational normalcy. Sports programs were cancelled or reduced. Parents had to assume the educational leadership over their children, having their own lives and careers disrupted. The list could be expanded. . . . There may even have been an increase in suicide rates stemming from the stress that the pandemic produced and more suicides may follow in its aftermath. 2020 was a year of profound loss. Many readers know about our own personal losses. This has been a very hard year.
So, why reflect on what we have lost at all? Why rehearse the pain? While we mourn the losses of 2020, and we may for years to come, we need to turn our hearts toward God and consider what we gained. This fading year was not simply about our losses. There has been much that we should have gained through all this calamity. Remember, what is happening in us is more important than what is happening to us! As we stand on the threshold of a new year, shouldn’t we ponder what we have gained, whether we appreciate it or not?
Among the primary things we should have gained is a new appreciation for life, realizing just how fragile it really is. At any time, our life could be extinguished, and it would be gone. James 4:14 declares that life is like a vapour—here and then absent, oh so quickly. It is interesting that James does not liken life to a sunset . . . slowly fading and gradually setting. For many, life seems to end this way. James uses a powerful simile to describe what really occurs—life is “like a vapour”—your breath on a cold winter’s morning or the steam from a tea kettle, here and then gone. Oh Lord, “teach us to number our days . . .” May believers learn to more fully trust in you. COVID is an unseen foe from which we really cannot defend ourselves—not with masks or social distancing or PPEs or even vaccines. All of these things may help, but you, oh Lord, are ultimately sovereign over all our days. Help us to trust in you.
Further, it should be remembered anew that all have an appointment which will not be missed, no matter how hard some may try. It is an appointment with death to meet the Creator. It is a divine appointment. “It is appointed” unto humans to die and after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Several things are evident in this text. First, this is an appointment made for us, over which we have little control. This is not fatalism. Fatalism isn’t a part of our world. God is the one who made the world; He is the one who sustains it. This is His world. Everything in His world works according to His divine direction (Eph 1:11). Since He made the world and all things that are a part of it, He appoints what happens in His world. Death is certain and applies to the living—all humans have this appointment. Also learned from this text is that death is not the end of things—death is followed by judgment—after this (death), there is judgment. There is both hope and warning in this text. For the believer, what happens to us in this world pales when compared with what awaits us in the next world. The believer enters into their rest in the presence of the Lord. All COVID can do is kill us. Don’t be foolish but neither be fearful. Eternal rest awaits. For the non-believer, there is warning. To die unprepared is to die without hope and without God. Once death comes, things are set. No change is possible. Decisions made in life are finalized at death. There can be no post-mortem salvation. You cannot buy auto insurance after you’ve had your accident, expecting the insurance to pay for the accident. So we, the living, yet have time to prepare. “So teach us to number our days . . .” Our days are limited. We need to live our lives as if we are on borrowed time, for we truly are. Often when I begin my personal prayer, I thank God for “another day of grace.” May I truly be thankful for another day, a day of grace, divine grace, a day to live and serve the Saviour! Oh Lord, thank you for 2020! Thank you for allowing me and my family to come through this most difficult year. Because you have granted me grace, there must be yet more for me to do for you. May I be faithful to pursue your will . . . to the end. Deo volente!