The excitement and hope associated with a fresh new year and decade seem to have vanished pretty quickly.
Less than a month into 2020, the continent of Australia has been ablaze with fires that have displaced thousands from their homes and killed hundreds of thousands of animals.
The reality of yet another war has loomed, and an airplane has been shot out of the sky. Hope seems to be at risk of slipping away.
The loss of hope is a serious condition. Cynicism and apathy easily develop when hope fades. Likewise, anger and violence often erupt in the absence of hope. Without the capability to see beyond the darkness of the present to a brighter future, life can seem pretty pointless.
Hope, and the lack of hope, were part of a conversation among a group of local pastors recently gathered at Duke Divinity School for training. These second-, third-, and fourth-career pastors serve some of the smallest, most resource-poor, struggling churches in the country.
Attendance at their churches are counted not in thousands or hundred, but dozens. The struggle for survival is real and constant. The work is hard.
These pastors shared the reality and pain of their communities crushed by unemployment, opioid additions, and the exodus of young people, leaving behind even more despair. They talked about aging congregants and the challenges caused by isolation, disabilities, and too many funerals.
Yet into these desperate situations, these pastors are being faithful to their calling to proclaim the good news of a loving God.
Underpinning their commitment is hope. They are moved and empowered by the hope that God is still at work for good in the world and in them.
Supporting each other, aware of the possible challenges, heartbreak, and discouragement ahead, they prayed to God to make beauty out of the ashes of their individual situations.
They asked for the strength necessary to speak life amidst death, joy amidst sadness, and peace amidst strife. Witnessing their faith and sensing the magnitude of their hope in light of overwhelming challenges, I became optimistic for the year 2020 ahead.
Regardless of what happens, I am expecting God to do some pretty amazing things, likely in ways I can't even imagine. The words of an ancient prophet come to mind: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
As we continue to look ahead to a new year, may we live hope-filled lives. May we place our hope in the One who knows everything about us and loves us anyway. And may that hope become real in lives of care and compassion for others.
Here's to a new year, a new decade, and to new God-given beginnings.
Pete Berntson is the pastor of Church of the Palms United Methodist Church in Okatie.