In 2020, l learned what it meant to stop. Although I love action and have no room for laziness, the events surrounding the COVID crisis taught me to value stepping back from my pursuits long enough to start thinking clearly.
In our culture, we have a thing we call a “break.” I can’t relate to this. When I’m working, there is no time for breaks. I find value in constant, focused action. Anything less than this seems counterproductive. I don’t have time to stop unless that break is taken to do something necessary.
In 2020, I learned that there is value in stopping for a break. Here are a few of the instances that stick out clearly in my memory.
I found clarity and direction when I stopped to talk to God about some specific things. I don’t know if I ever had a year with more decisions to make. Every part of my life was interrupted. I normally enjoy having my business calendar booked at least three weeks out. When the PA lockdown hit, most of my work was essential, but due to the financial crisis a couple big jobs were canceled leaving me with the freedom to do other things for a month. My school had an extended spring break followed by a tumultuous transition to online learning. In the middle of all of this, I had to decide what I would pursue for work, what I would do about the mask mandate, and how I would continue my responsibilities at the kids ministry.
I remember one specific stop where I was able to hear God clearly. I was on my way to a meeting and had the time to stop by the Dunkin’ at the end of our road. I had way too much indecision and needed direction. Alone at a table, I watched traffic go by and talked to God. In the quietness, I understood His purpose with a clarity I hadn’t known in a long time and left knowing what my next steps would be.
Stopping enabled me to return to deep worship. Over the Easter season the strangeness of 2020 was suffocating. Most of our family had gone to our old place in Oklahoma since Pennsylvania was shut down. The change of everything was too much for me. That time of year usually fills me with exuberance, but this year I was not even excited. I didn’t know what to do on Easter morning, so I decided to go somewhere and watch the sunrise. I went to my hometown’s brand new sports complex that now lay unused and walked in the silence of the ball diamonds. The sky was cloudy, so there wasn’t much to watch, but in the quietness as I thought about the resurrection my mental fog began to clear and saw the two thousand year old reality vividly. I could not be silent any longer. As I sang I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, I saw the light of the resurrection against the dimness of 2020 in a way I will never forget.
In the middle of the year, I stopped simply to rest. In July, a friend and I drove to California to attend a wedding. After the weekend of great times, exhaustion and 2020 tension, we started back. In the middle of Wyoming, we were both tired, so I pulled over at the next rest stop. There we found a picnic shelter that at least provided some shade. The dry desert wind, squeaking prairie dogs and scurrying mice etched themselves into my memory as I fell asleep for some much needed rest.
Among all the opportunities 2020 had to offer me were times when I had the chance to share in several churches. I found that an intentional stop to think and pray provided me with the clarity I needed to communicate.
One time I flew to Oklahoma for a weekend to take care of some things on our property. I was scheduled to preach that evening, but for some reason the trip hadn’t helped me prepare. There in the empty airport as I waited after landing, I found an inconspicuous place beside a glass wall that separated me from the runway. As I stared at the resilient pokeweed and anchored airplanes, I could think clearly and feel what I needed to communicate to my friends. By the time my ride came, I was excited to share that evening.
As I look back at 2020, I realize that I learned to value “stopping” in a way I don’t want to forget. Before this year, the story of Jesus telling His disciples to rest didn’t make much sense. I used to think it was just a nice thing to do, but now I’m realizing it’s not only nice, it’s necessary.
Regardless of the ministry, study, occupation or location God leads us to in 2021, be assured that He will lead us to places to stop. He will encourage us, refocus us, speak to us and fill us with His Spirit.