Why I Want to Remember 2020

This article appears on Behold Vancouver.

Has anyone else been counting down the days until the end of this year? It’s been a long 365 days, filled with a lot of suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and cultural unrest. We’ve lost a lot of things that once brought us joy.

In particular, the coronavirus has tested our patience, our obedience, and our resolve.  It has affected the way we worship and it has prohibited us from gathering as faith communities, either for mass or for ministry.

We don’t dismiss the reality of sorrow that so many have experienced but we also know that as Christians, God gives us hope beyond what we have here and now. And in the midst of suffering, He offers us his kindness, grace, blessings, and even joy.

There is something incredible that happens when we have the ability to see the good. It doesn’t just lift our spirits but can change our entire outlook on life. When I step back and look at the big picture, there have been things I’ve gained instead of lost. In fact, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family and friends, and my faith.

Here are five things God gave me in 2020

I learned to actually slow down.

Between family commitments, work, directing religious education at my home parish, studying for my Master of Theology, vlogging on YouTube, and bowling (yes I bowled twice a week), I have a few things going on. I was constantly on the move and yet, I never would have admitted that I was “too busy”.  In reality, I was a poor manager of time. I’ve come to realize that it was always a choice of my priorities. You make the time for the things that matter.

Having said that, the pandemic has helped me refine my outlook on “busy-ness” and activity a little more.  With less time out and more time at home, I’ve been able to enjoy more downtime and get more rest. With more rest, I’m able to focus more of my energy on the things that I love doing. I’ve been able to pause and reconsider, what’s important to me? What really matters?

Would I have been able to do that before? Not to the same extent. There’s something about being forced to slow down that makes you really stop, lay everything fully on the table, and prioritize your life.

I learned to be a better husband and father.

When the pandemic started back in March, I worked at home for eight weeks. So did my wife Gail, who teaches at a Catholic elementary school. And all three of our kids were studying from home as well. We were together a lot more than we were used to, whether it was for meals (including lunchtime) or in the evening (given there were no gatherings to go to). Everything seemed to be amplified: both what we loved about one another and what we couldn’t stand about one another.  It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your phone or your computer and “do your own thing”.  We’ve tried really hard to remain present to one another rather than retreat to our respective bedrooms.

The hour that I saved from not having to commute to and from work—I could pour into my wife and children. We had more time together to talk, to laugh, to play games, to debate, and to pray. Through most uncertain times, I was grateful to have the certainty of family.

Even with all five of us at home, things seem less frantic and frenetic than usual. Which is saying something when you have a house full of teenagers! We’ve been paying more attention than ever to our family prayer calendar as we pray for different families and individuals every day of the month. We’ve been listening to God’s voice both in stillness and busyness. In our increased time together, we’ve learned to take each other for granted. And to realize just how fortunate we are to have one another.

In particular, I’ve learned new ways to support Gail and our children. I try my best to do my share of work around the house as Gail prepares lessons, marks, writes reports, and crafts emails to parents. I found new ways to accompany Sean as he enters into adulthood and as a second-year UBC student. With Jake, we’ve been able to spend a lot of time talking about his future plans as he is in grade 12. And for Kayla, I check in on her every day as she continues to adjust to life as a grade 8 high school student.

I learned about deeper friendship

Given what I said earlier about making time for those who are important to you, there are some people with whom I haven’t really connected with over the past nine months…and admittedly I’m okay with it.  Maybe part of my “busy-ness” was trying to be too many things to too many people.  On the flip side, I’ve worked really hard to stay connected to my closest friends, whether it be through video chats, online games, text messages, or good old fashion phone calls. Even a simple text asking, “How can I pray for you today?” goes a long way. I’ve learned that all relationships need nurturing and attention. They simply don’t grow without intentional effort.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for quality over quantity when it comes to friendships. As the “father figure” in many of my friendships and relationships (maybe because of my age), I’m often the one doing the initiating and checking in. I’m grateful to those who reach out to me as well, and who aren’t afraid to ask me if I’m putting time and energy into proper things. I’ve learned that I desire to continue to move my friendships to a deeper level, especially with respect to faith. Asking for prayer requests and for prayers is a simple yet genuine way to do this.

I learned to not take my faith for granted.

My home parish of St. Paul’s in Richmond was one of the first churches to launch live-streamed masses back in the Spring. I have been on the tech team since the very beginning, along with one of my sons and my brother-in-law. Thus, I’ve been blessed to go to mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist two or three times a week. I recognize that I’m in a very privileged position and that thousands of Catholics in our own archdiocese (and millions around the world) are not able to go to mass.

It has been wonderful helping with the masses with my son Jacob. Not only is he being spiritually nourished, but we are able to talk about the homily, the readings, and the liturgical themes on our way home from mass. I know that it has strengthened both of our faiths. And it’s reminded me to never take our faith for granted.

I learned that nothing is impossible with God.

The pandemic has brought so many things that can seem quite hopeless at times. Over the past month, I’ve heard God encouraging me, and all of us, to remain faithful and to trust that He has something bigger in mind.

At times, it has been a fight to trust God will make something good out of this situation or bring an end to it all. Some moments have been far easier than others. But in God’s love and mercy, we have hope. In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have hope. And in the way that God reveals Himself to me in big and little ways through my family, my friendships, and my (limited) activity, we have hope.

We are all praying for relief. We desire to be able to gather one again: with our family members and friends, at restaurants, and at mass. But we also know that even in a year we never thought we’d get through, God carried us through.

In times of uncertainty, I recall my favourite scripture from Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Looking to the new year, I will lean in on this verse more than ever.

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