How to ensure 2021 is as good as we're hoping it will be

(Photo: Unsplash/Jude Beck)

As Big Ben strikes midnight and fireworks lit up the night sky, I joined the collective sigh of relief as the world exhaled the stress of this last year.

2020 will be well and truly behind us. Forever.

Yet, as we raise a glass to a new year pregnant with hope and possibility and we reflect on what can only be described as a tumultuous year for us individually, nationally, and globally, I imagine it won't be long before reality sets in and we're left wondering nervously if 2021 will be any different?

I'm not a politician, economist or doctor, but I think it's safe to say 2021 isn't going to miraculously get better overnight, as if the horrors of 2020 have vanished in a sprinkle of confetti and champagne.

Yes, we have a vaccine and there is hope and change on the horizon, but for many of us lockdown goes on, our kitchen tables continue to double as classrooms, family gatherings continue on Zoom, the lonely and infirm remain isolated and at risk, and the financial pressures we face as individuals and as a nation are going to take time to climb out of.

So, I wonder, can 2021 be all we're hoping it will be and if it can, how do we ensure that it is?

As someone who was diagnosed with cancer just six weeks after losing her sister and six years after losing her mum to the same thing, I want to stand on my soap box and yell, YES, 2021 can definitely be all we're hoping.

If my run-in with cancer showed me anything, it's that life doesn't have to be pain free to be full, and that it's possible to thrive, not just survive, no matter what.

Living this out by putting these lessons into practice will ensure 2021 is all we're hoping it will be.

10 Ways to Ensure 2021 is All You're Hoping It Will Be

1. Stop waiting for life to get better

Yes, Jesus said we'd have storms (John 16:33) and this global pandemic is one mighty storm for sure, but he also said he came to give us life in all its fullness (John 10:10). When we assume his abundant life is off waiting in the future when the storm is over, we put our lives on hold and miss out on what Jesus has for us right now.

2. Focus on what you know, not what you don't

Letting our minds spiral into a million what-if scenarios and catastrophising about what could or might happen is a recipe for worry, anxiety and stress. Living in the unknown is possible when we set our minds on what is true, noble, right and pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8) and remember that God is good, even if life isn't.

3. Go to God before Google

Despite what our teenagers and we secretly believe, Google doesn't have ALL the answers. At least not to the questions that matter. Scrolling Google might feed our brain's need to close the open story loops of what's going to happen next week, month or year, but it's not healthy or helpful. Going to God before Google, the news or social media, ensures we have a solid footing to step into what's next.

4. Practice gratitude

The Apostle Paul was onto something when he encouraged us to give thanks in all things (1Thess 5:18). Even if you don't feel grateful, research has now proved the simple act of giving thanks increases our wellbeing, lowers our stress and shifts our outlook. You don't have to see 2021 differently to be grateful; rather be grateful to see 2021 differently.

5. Flip your script

I learned this "trick" from my friend, triple amputee and mum of five, Kristan Seaford. Rather than saying, "I have to do another load of laundry," Kristan flips her script and says to herself, "I get to do another load of laundry - I have five wonderful kids, enough clothes to keep them warm and a machine that will wash the clothes for me." As we flip the script on life, we discover a fresh wave of gratitude and a new improved outlook on an old and difficult situation. We can fight our circumstances or we can put them to work for our benefit, it's up to us.

6. Choose brave

Cancer taught me that 'brave' isn't something you are or aren't by nature of your gene pool or whether you're prepared to jump out of an airplane with nothing more than an oversized hanky strapped to you back. It's a choice we make daily, often minute by minute, when we come face to face with the hard, secure in the knowledge God goes with us (Joshua 1:9).

The brave choice, whether it's to stay at home when your friends are gathering despite lockdown rules, to patiently go through long division for the fortieth time with one of your kids, or taking a second job to make ends meet, doesn't need to be big, just intentional, and will always lead to the fuller, richer life, than the one found down the path of least resistance.

7. Find community

We are created for community by a God who is, by his very nature, community; three in one. As lockdown has isolated us and we've spent more time alone or with only a limited few, a small part of even the most introverted among us has wilted.

During my cancer I realized that my people - friends and family who could offer sympathy, practical, help and much needed distraction - weren't enough. I also needed what I called my "I get it" people; those who'd been where I was and knew what it was like to sit in a chemo chair or undergo radiation. Only they could offer the empathy my family, however much they loved me, never could.

We might not be able to meet in person, and FaceTime will never replace face to face time, but staying connected means we feed the part of us that needs to be seen, heard, and connected with. Thriving is a team sport and no-one wins alone.

8. Embrace the journey

When life's hard it's easy to live in a past or future viewed through rose-tinted glasses. The here-and-now is often the last place we want to be and yet, it's here that we meet God. It's here, as we embrace the journey and all it holds, we discover the One who strengthens us, comforts us and brings light to our darkest days. It's here we find what we've been looking for all along.

9. Make time to laugh

Laughter really is the best medicine and as our facial muscles crease and wrinkle into smiles we see twinkle in our eyes and feel good hormones race to our brains. Taking time to laugh by watching comedies, telling terrible jokes, enjoying a tickle-fest with your kids or listening to your favorite comedian has the power to shift how we feel about life and all it holds.

10. Reach out

Struggling through cancer treatment and with my life in pieces, the thought of being the glue in someone else's life felt overwhelming. I'm ashamed to admit I was too tired and selfish to help. I had bought into the myth of costly kindness; the idea that the cost of loving someone else outweighs any benefit.

Thankfully I learned it was just that, a myth and sharing someone's burden, even for a moment, isn't the drain we imagine, but a tank-filling privilege and joy. Let's love each other well with small acts of kindness and as we do, reaching out in love at little cost to ourselves, we offer something priceless while receiving something invaluable.

Niki Hardy is the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart (grab the first couple of chapters FREE HERE) and the host of the down to earth devotion style podcast Chemo Chair Prayers.