Finding joy in the difficult challenges of 2020 hasn't been easy. But when we look for the joy it takes the edge off trying circumstances.

Hello everyone and welcome to episode 85 of our podcast, our last one for 2020, and season 4. Season 5 starts next Wednesday.

In episode 81 a few weeks ago I quoted the bible character Nathaniel, who asked a rhetorical question about Jesus in the very early days of his ministry, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Apparently the town of Nazareth’s reputation lacked a degree of goodness about it. It never made it on the “Top 10 list of Cities in the Roman Empire to Retire.”

A similar question can be asked about 2020, with only two days left in the year here on December 30th. Can anything good come out of this past year?

Like Nazareth, there is good and there is joy that came out of this past year, but we need watchful and discerning eyes to find it as 2020 comes to a close. We all know what went wrong in 2020.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you that every letter or email we get this month from organizations start with a sentence or two mentioning how bad things have been for all of us in 2020? I think I’m guilty of writing a few of these myself. Maybe you, too.

There’s no need to list all that went wrong this past year. We see and hear about it every day. The one thing we don’t usually see or hear about is the joy that’s also been part of just being alive in 2020.

So where do you find the joy in these past 12 months?

Finding the joy

For me, it’s like when you buy a fixer-upper house as some of us have, or that you see in one of those increasingly popular TV shows about the same thing. I’m thinking of a house that was built, say in the 1950s, and now the original owners had to move into a nursing home. The house had never been updated, with the original linoleum in the kitchen worn through in spots. The cheap metal kitchen cabinets with a few dents in them. The peach-colored floral wallpaper in the bathroom that’s coming apart at the seams.

But the worst is the carpeting that’s been there since Jimmy Carter was president. A few cigarette burns here and there, and stains from various pets down through the decades that gave it that unique odor that told you, “Yep, these people had dogs. Probably several of them.”

All of this looks like the year 2020.

But then … before you move in you begin the rehab work by pulling up the carpeting, and discover much to your unexpected delight, unblemished wood floors under it that look almost new.

Finding the joy in 2020 is like pulling up that smelly, threadbare stained carpeting to find beautiful wood floors underneath. Here are two examples.

Joy found on a college campus

A local newspaper published a brief article about  Carroll University in town that just completed a semester of in-person learning. They celebrated by passing out to students a winter stocking cap with the school’s logo and a card that simply said, “We Made it!”

Carroll officials spent months in preparation to make the semester of in-person learning possible. Cindy Gnadinger, university president, said “We wanted the students to know that because they followed the protocols we put in place they made the semester possible. There was a lot of joy that we have come this far.”

“We Made It!”

“We” – Not just me. Not just you. But we. Us. Administrators, staff, professors, and students. All of us, together. Collectively.

“Made”  – We rolled with the punches. We took action. We didn’t roll over and
play dead. We took precautions. We made tough choices. Story of the students who were expelled before the semester started for partying and violating protocols. Set a precedent, We’re serious about this.

All the students we saw on campus wearing masks outside, walking down the street, 50 feet away from others, but still wearing a mask. Accepted the inconveniences for a larger goal

“It” – Completed the goal of a semester of in-person learning against a lot of obstacles. We worked through our fears. Accomplished a goal in the face of adversity. We made it to the finish line, a little wobbly, to be sure. But we made it.

The joy in this experience in no way negates the difficulties and sense of loss the students and staff experienced. Almost no social interactions because of the masks and social distancing. The sense of isolation many students felt is not what the college experience is supposed to be. Yet everyone made the best of these difficult circumstances.

They made it!

Finding joy in God’s timing in a tragic loss

In episodes 71 and 72 I talked about my friend Martin whose wife tragically died in early August of this year. I’ve met with him several times since then, and in a recent phone conversation he talked about the grief he is dealing with and the impact of raising a daughter alone, and caring for Suzanne’s disabled 81-year-old mother. The weight of it is almost too much to bear.

But then his voice lifted when he talked about God’s timing of Suzanne’s sudden death. He had great support from the church during those most difficult of days.

“But a month later things started to unravel at the church. The pastor and several staff members left. lots of division occurring, and the support would not have been there for me because everyone was so wrapped up with the internal affairs of the church. It was a blessing Suzanne died when she did.”

Here Martin found a small measure of joy in the midst of overwhelming pain and loss.

Joy and sadness sitting on a bench together

My conversation with Martin was on a Saturday. The next day at our church the preacher talked in passing about heaven, and the unspeakable joy that awaits us there. That we are all foreigners just passing through on our time here on earth. That our ultimate home is with Jesus. At that point I thought of Suzanne and her infectious smile taking it all in, enjoying the wait for Martin, her daughter, and her mother to join here. That brought joy to my heart, as it sat on a bench right next to my sadness for Martin and myself over the loss of Suzanne. Joy and sadness sitting on a bench next to each other. That’s how it works.

Finding the joy in no way minimizes the real pain and suffering of 2020, what Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal calls “the cruelest of years.” It’s like that fixer-upper house I mentioned earlier. As joyous as it was to find the beautiful wood floors under the decades-old carpeting, there’s still all the other challenges. The peeling wallpaper, dented kitchen cabinets, the green screen door hanging from only one hinge. In spite of all this, we can find joy.

If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode.

There is almost always joy to be found in difficult circumstances if we look hard enough. When we find it, joy will take the edge off those challenging situations.

Here’s what we can do in response to today’s program.

Think of a relational goal you could work toward even in the midst of our global pandemic, and then take some action to accomplish that goal.

Make that phone call, send that text, write that letter, set that appointment to meet, mask and all. Where there is no joy, spread some yourself.

As always, another thing you could do is let me and your fellow listeners know what resonated with you about today’s episode. The easiest way is to put your thoughts in an email and send them to me, Or you can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.


I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. So that you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Our Relationship Quote of the Week

Joy lies in the fight, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

That’s all for today. See you next week. And Next Year. And the start of Season 5 on January 6th. Goodbye for now, and Happy New Year everyone!

Related resources that might interest you

Episode 71 How to Help a Grieving Friend
Episode 72 What I learned from a Grieving Friend

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