Three Lessons 2020 Gave Me for 2021

Photography Courtesy of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles


“No matter what 2021 brings, we are going to use it to become saints.”


We have said goodbye to 2020, a year full of unpredictable twists and turns. No matter what the pundits might say, it was not the worst year in the history of the universe. And all of us can find glimpses of grace and light even in the darkest moments. 

Now it is 2021, but the turn of the calendar page does not automatically mean a drastic change to our daily lives. Life is not a movie; it is not going to magically get better because we are in a new year. But let us together pledge that no matter what 2021 brings, we are going to use it to become saints. Each day is a gift from God. 

We cannot dismiss 2020 simply as a disaster to be written off. Ignoring the days we have been given is ignoring the opportunities God has given us for holiness. Each day we wake up, regardless of what awaits us, is a new opportunity for grace, for conversion, and for mission. What will you do with what you’ve been given today? Maybe you’ll be given an unexpected cross. Or maybe you’ll be given an unexpected joy. We can use both to further God’s plan in our lives. Both can bring us to holiness.

I was speaking to a friend who seemed to think that if there was a certain outcome to the election we could not be happy – we were doomed to have a miserable 2021. But that is not the message of the Gospel. Our happiness does not depend on worldly leaders. In fact, for much of our history, Christians have not found comfort in any worldly leadership. And those have been some of our brightest moments as a Church!

I leave this year grateful and encouraged for 2021. Not because I think anything will drastically change tomorrow or the next day. But because 2020 has given me enormous opportunities for grace. It is often the case that we have to be broken to grow. I leave this year differently from how I began.

We have learned several things in 2020 that should prepare us to enter 2021. I am sure you can look back at the last year and see places you have grown. Here are three lessons 2020 gave me for 2021: 

Let go of expectations

Before this year, it has been perhaps a little too easy to think we were in control of what was happening. If I work hard enough and dream big enough, I can do anything. Or perhaps we have been too confident to assert that we would never do something or that something would never be happen.

This year has taught us that we do not know what the future holds. All we do know is that when it comes, God is there.

We have to be flexible enough to let God surprise us. Avoid ultimatums – it’s dangerous to say “I would never…,” or “it could never…” The saints are not rigid; rather, they are those who are humble enough to let go of their own plans, to alter their agendas, and to find peace and happiness in the unexpected. 

Don’t take anything for granted.

Each day is a gift. Each opportunity to go to Mass is a grace. We cannot take for granted our employment, the food on our table, our gatherings with family, and our freedom to be with those we love. Thank God for these gifts.

It is easy to think about what we lost this year. Our conversations can naturally veer toward lament and complaint. Do we focus on what went wrong in 2020 and what might go wrong in 2021? Or do our thoughts and conversation aim to edify? As St. Paul admonishes us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). And these are words from a man who endured a lot more in his life than I have in 2020. Rather than focus on what we lost, be grateful for what we have learned.

Do not fear

Ultimately, it does not matter what 2021 holds. There is nothing that can remove us from the love of God. Even the greatest calamities do not have to rob us of peace, if our foundation is God.

Are you anxious about the future? Give it to God. He is already there. “Fear is a phenomenon which covers almost every aspect of life. It is often the result of ignorance or of selfishness stemming from an excessive concern for oneself or anxiety over things that perhaps will never happen. But, above all else, fear often stems from the awareness that the security of our life is based on very weak foundations.” (Father Francis Fernandez)

It is said that the notion “be not afraid” appears 366 times in Sacred Scripture: one for every day of the year, even for leap years like 2020. Perhaps it is a message that the Holy Spirit must keep repeating until we pay attention. It is not that the future will necessarily be easy; it is that the security of our life depends on an unchangeable God who does not leave us orphan.

Is it tempting to think 2021 has to be better than 2020? Perhaps it will be, perhaps it will not. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Your joy should not depend on anything changing.

Your joy does not depend on the capricious whims of this world – wealth, politics, or even health. We are in this world to become saints, and God makes saints in every age. So let us together pledge that no matter what 2021 brings, we are going to use it to become saints.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College, and the Diocese of Nashville. She is currently a full-time Catholic speaker and writer. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her nine nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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