When the ball dropped in New York’s Times Square on December 31, 2020, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. The chapter had closed on what Time magazine declared on its December 14 cover to be the worst year ever. The new year, 2021, was perceived to be a bright light at the end of the tunnel—a vaccination was on the way for the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government had switched leaders, and such places as Australia’s fire-ridden landscape and Beirut’s blown-up zone could look forward to rebuilding.
Now that we arrive at the dawn of 2022, we again ask ourselves, “What did the past year mean?” Was 2021 a relief period after the tumultuous events of 2020, or was it “2020: The Sequel”?
A pessimist might cite various events to support the latter: the COVID-19 Delta variant meant the pandemic continued to infect at an increased rate, and various parts of the globe experienced lockdowns. Then there was the United States Capitol attack in January, the Israel-Palestinian crisis in May, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Haiti. While we are preoccupied with remembering all the deaths in these political and natural disasters, the wedging of the MV Ever Given container ship in the Suez canal—which according to BBC, stopped 12 percent of global trade—seems like a distant memory.
On an optimistic front, increased vaccination efforts, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson’s earmarking a new era of tourism with their ventures into space, and the 2020 Olympics all inspired hope—even for those experiencing lockdown. Even the United States’ efforts at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games inspired citizens with a number of feel-good stories. Factoring these global events into our personal perception of 2021 is one thing; however, we often see the success or failure of a year through the lens of our own triumphs and tragedies.
For me, the year began with the ecstasy of becoming engaged to my girlfriend (she actually said yes!), followed by the brutal realization that our wedding would need to be postponed due to Australia’s COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak. I’m sure you will also have your own story to tell about this year.
What, then, does 2022 represent for us? Is it the promise of being able to travel internationally again, the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup, or promises of societal progress in areas of health, environment, or the economy? Maybe it’s something personal that we’re looking forward to—or dreading.
The very reason that we seek answers to these questions is worth discussing. Why is it that we attach such great significance to another lap around the sun—investing all our dreams, hopes, and desires into what will arrive around the corner following December 31, 2021?
Psychology Today author David Ropeik attributes the significance we place on New Year’s Eve to the opportunity to “reflect, look back, take stock, assess how we did, and resolve to do things better.” He adds: “The symbolism we attach to this moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all: our motivation to survive.” An interesting notion: for all the parties and fireworks, pumping music, and friends—the one thing humans really seek is an opportunity to quietly reflect on another year of life.
Is it because we don’t have enough opportunities to do so in our high-strung lives? A study by the American Psychological Association at the start of the year reported that stress levels this year were just as high as when the pandemic broke out in early 2020, while research by Kaiser Family Foundation found 4 in 10 US adults had symptoms of anxiety or depressive symptoms during January 2021. Alarmingly, this was a stark increase from the 1 in 10 who reported as such two years previously.
This may even be partially attributed to the stress of a new year not holding any solutions: another tour around the sun will do little for political unrest, conflict, and personal issues. A marking on the timeline of earth’s history doesn’t have the power to bring change like the choices we make in the days before and after the first day on the new calendar.
There is power in stopping and reflecting. Forbes lists a variety of practical techniques for emotional rest, including practicing gratitude, deep breathing, and healthy habits. Another source of wisdom about rest is found in ancient but highly relevant Bible texts. The psalmist David describes walking with God: “[He] is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:1–3). Perhaps we’ve often left God out of the equation in our lives and neglected one aspect that He promises us: healing and restoration.
Time and again, God promised as much to people if they chose to follow Him. He promised it to the Israelites, a people that had suffered state failure, invasion, and exile, certainly stressful situations. “I will bring my people Israel back from exile,” God said. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:14). It’s a similar thing that He promises us, too, in our complex modern world: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
But that’s only one part of the equation that God offers. Rather than just recharging us to go out and fight another day, He offers hope for an end to all our struggles.
a better day
Jesus Christ’s second coming is described in the Bible as an end point to all struggles—an end to our human cycles between the hope of change and despair of struggle. On the island Patmos, Jesus’ disciple John was given visions about the earth being restored. Describing a “Holy City” coming down from heaven, he also says: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ ”
He continues: “ ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The last chapter in the Bible describes idyllic scenes in the city, including “water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God” and the tree of life, which provides “healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1, 2). Three times in that chapter, God repeats the phrase, “Look, I am coming soon!” (verse 12).
Whether we view 2022 with a sense of caution or optimism, the time we have to reflect on the new year could be our moment of change. Rather than just choosing a list of “New Year’s resolutions,” we have the power to choose something of eternal significance: God Himself. Praying, reflecting, and meditating on His words in the Bible has the power to restore us and bring us into a union with Him. The sparkling waters and luscious trees are only part of the reward for our union with God because “the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (verse 5). As we turn the corner on 2021 and look into the dawn of a new year, rest your feelings and your future on Revelation’s final words “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (verse 21).
Daniel Kuberek is an associate editor for the US Signs of the Times® magazine and assistant editor for the Australian and New Zealand Signs of the Times magazine. He lives in Sydney, Australia.