In a blink of an eye, we are done with the first ten days of this year. One calendar week down, 51 to go. The world has been rolling, time is fading while everything is in a state of uncertainty. No one knows when the pandemic is going to come to an end. There are also issues about the effectivity and side effects (anaphylaxis) caused by the vaccines produced against COVID-19, societal issues and moral dilemmas. In the middle of everything, one thing is certain: it has been a year and until now, everyone is still in the state of figuring things out.

In retrospect, the year 2020 just passed by right in front of us. And by this, I get to reflect on the importance of time and the value of every single moment in existence. Life is short and 2020 is a testament to this statement. Last year is a mist, but I can say that it was the year when I learned the most about my life, its meaning and purpose. The quarantine gave rise to new doors for me to seek the essence of what I am doing and why I am doing it. Looking at the bigger picture, it taught me the best lessons I had so far and forever, my heart is grateful.

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1. Do not kill your own joy

I am not sure if I am the only one, however, I tend to spoil myself from the joy that I am experiencing. During the first quarter of 2020, I don’t know the exact reason why, but I never failed to kill my joy. One moment, I was in the precipice of my emotions, then I am not. As a result, I often found myself in deep sadness and sorrow. My pessimism led me into a realization that I must stop killing my joy. As a famous Roman philosopher once said:

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

Seneca

From that moment, I decided to intentionally choose joy. I started to filter the things that enter my mind and whenever negativity hits, I counter by tapping my head twice, my visual reminder to choose joy and remain positive. For certain, life is difficult, however, my pessimistic attitude is not going to bring me anywhere. It will not help me get through the worst moments of my life in quarantine. It was difficult, actually, no, it was impossible, but as Philippians 4:4 said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” I am hopeful that I can pass through it, and by God’s grace, I did.

2. Joy is different from happiness

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With the extent of loneliness and isolation, the quarantine life had led us, seeking happiness from different sources is conventional. I remember how I exactly felt that night when the local government unit announced the beginning of quarantine (for two weeks), I cannot keep my mind from thinking of the possible things that I can do to make the most of my time. I wanted to read books, watch series and sleep a lot. However, as the quarantine kept on being extended, the rush that I had begun to depart and I started to lose my footing.

Read: The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned in This Pandemic

I did a lot of worldly things thinking that it is going to give me a sense of satisfaction. And it did—at first, however, it did not last long. As a response, I tried other things, and another, then another. Yet, there was none to hold, nothing to fill the void and burden. Desperate, I tried to search for answers and as I reflect upon my situation, that is when I came into a conclusion: I am searching for happiness but what my soul longs for is joy. It is then that the difference in joy from happiness became clear to my senses. Happiness is short-lived and situation-dependent, but joy? It is eternal—from a sense of peace that transcends all understanding and is only found in the presence of the Lord. I am grateful for this lesson because it taught me the importance of sitting still in the presence of God. To know in my heart that when there seems no answer, He is.

3. Never expect joy while doing the wrong thing

One of the most basic rules for joy, yet, easily forgotten. Searching for satisfaction from the wrong source is like finding a snowball in hell. However, a common mistake of humanity is to fall into this trap. To think that what is impossible is possible, only to find ourselves hopeless and weary, asking “what is wrong with me?” just because we failed to understand the rule right from the very beginning.

You always know it is the right thing, when in the end there is peace.

Oprah Winfrey

In all honesty, consuming my dosage of this lesson was painful. The process of letting go of my counterfeit sources of joy was a long ride. There were days when I felt like I am praying for something impossible to happen (for God to remove my version of wrong things) or waiting for something that is not existing, but I have to keep my faith and believe that by God’s grace, it is possible in His perfect time. To tell you, as of late, I am still in the process but I choose to believe that He is working. And to learn in the process that doing the wrong thing, for whatever its worth, is never going to be an answer is one source of joy and peace.

4. With every chance you get, extend a helping hand

It was the beginning of quarantine and a man went into our house selling dessert called leche flan. For a bit of context, I am not a man who is very into helping others (which is disgusting) especially those people whom I do not know. And just like any other day, I lied saying: “Sa susunod na lang po.” (I will buy next time) But, without plans of buying his goods any time soon. The entire day went by and at 6 o’clock in the evening, my sister chatted me from her work on a messaging application asking: “Binili mo ba ‘yong leche flan?” (Did you bought the leche flan?) At first, I was completely clueless about what she was saying, but when it made sense, I said not. And that is when she told me the complete story.

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The man that was selling the dessert was one of her classmates in junior high school. He is a young father, building a family that he supports by selling almost any goods he can think of. He offered my sister to buy leche flan and my sister said yes to help him. That is why he went to our home earlier that day with the exact goods pre-ordered from him and I denied him from his livelihood. Thinking about what I have done, I felt like a horrible person (and I am). By God’s grace, the Lord convicted my heart to correct my mistake. I confessed my thoughts and feelings to my parents and thankfully, they rebuked my selfish action and encouraged me to do something about it. I told my sister to talk with his friend. The next day, he went back with my sister’s orders and mine too. Looking back at what I have done, until now, I still feel bad. However, I am grateful for the experience because the emotional backfire taught me a very great lesson in life. We do not know how heavy the baggage these people around us are carrying, hence, we must learn to be sensitive about it. If we got the chance, regardless of how big or small, let us extend a helping hand because in these situations the human act is always kindness.

5. Not everything turns out as planned

Perhaps the single lesson that most of the people learned in the past year with the pandemic and quarantine going on altogether is the reality that not all the time, everything will turn out the way it was planned. This may sound self-limiting, however, these circumstances, if put into the right perspective, are going to encourage and inspire the essence of flexibility based on what the world has placed in our plates. Not only that but the pandemic also accentuated the capability of humanity to adapt for the sake of survival—something that makes us very special among other living species in existence. This life lesson enlightened me into a new mentality: the next time I feel like I cannot get pass through anything, I will choose to intentionally remind myself that once in my entire lifetime, on the year 2020, even everything turned out different as I have planned and as my heart desired, still—I got over it. Just like everyone who experienced this dark age in the 21st century—like you. And it is normal and there is nothing we are to be ashamed of that matter.

You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach and response.

Tony Dungy

6. Value the essentials of life

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What matters most in life? is one in the hundred questions 2020 forced us to ponder. Now if you are going to ask me about my answer? It is the essentials of life. When the quarantine started, in an instant, everyone was on the same footing. The world shut down and our lives collapsed with it. All of a sudden, the things that we used to hold on to were not stable and reliable anymore. The pandemic caused devastating effects not only in our personal lives but for others too. This is where the bigger picture comes into the scene and we see life through a different lens, a life-changing shift of view where we get to see the real things that matter.

These include the quality of our relationship with God, our family, friends and other people, our character, attitude, perspective and humanity as a whole. Things that define our inner being, identity and motivation. These are the essentials of life. Those values that are seen neither in face value nor straight away, but for a lifetime and even in eternity. The essentials are the real things that matter and we must not allow the world to blind us by offering things of temporality and self-indulgence. How about you? What matters most in your life? My deepest hope is your essentials are true, pure and of great value because, at the end of the day, this defines you.

7. Rest is not doing nothing

For some people, the year 2020 was a year of rest and recreation. A time to pause, to breathe and reflect about life and where is it bringing us to—and in all honesty, I am one of those people who had the same episodes. However, during the process I learned a counterintuitive perspective about rest: rest is not doing anything. For the longest time, my belief was to rest, one must intentionally do nothing. But it turns out to be different because to rest and experience it at a genuine level, you must learn to know what gives rest to your innermost being: your soul. As for me, I found rest by reading books, spending time with God and mindfulness meditation. Whenever I do these things, my heart flutters and there is an unexplainable sense of rush and satisfaction that I get myself into. And by this, I am grateful because I saw that even in the simplest moments of existence (even by listening to the sounds of the birds or gazing at the night sky), we can find rest if we are willing to look and search for it within the deepest part of ourselves.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

John Lubbock

8. The world is going to force you into a rush

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Another shift in perspective and an eye-opening realization that I had last year was my transformed perception of the importance of taking the time. With everything that is happening in my life, juggling my responsibilities as a son, student and leader, I have a built-in self-concept that the faster I accomplish a task, the better. I discovered it is the complete opposite because, in this life, no one cares about your pace of time. Hence, with every chance that you get, choose to slow down and do not be in a rush. Allow everything to sink in. Breathe and feel it. Make the moment yours to the chase. Remember that life is too short and if you are going to focus on rushing everything into its completion, you are going to miss a lot of things—and that for sure is something that you are going to regret for the rest of your life.

9. Life does not owe you anything

One of my favourite takeaways from 2020 is my acceptance that life does not owe me anything. For a bit of context, I am a child who grew in an environment where I was spoiled with flattering words and compliments without actually doing anything. As a result, I became (you can say it) a very entitled human being. During my adolescent years, there was never a time that I stopped longing for validation from others. However, when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 2017 everything changed. Slowly, I get to internalize my value that is not dependent on anyone else but to Him alone. A sense of love and acceptance that does not change and independent from the view of others and myself.

And then 2020 happened, the year when (at last) I had the maturity to let myself experience freedom and liberation from the expectations that I have from others, this life and even from myself. On that day, by God’s grace, I dared to man up by assuming full responsibility for my decisions, actions and choices in life. From that day, now and forward, I will not be entitled to anything and whatever life throws out me, I will be more than willing to accept it with my hands wide open. As I write these words to you, I am certain that I am far from perfection, instead, I want you to know that I am a work in progress but I am looking forward to the upcoming days knowing that there lie joy, pain and growth.

Life does not owe me anything.

What a beautiful phrase.

No one owes you anything. Your success and failures are on your head and your head alone. Quit crying about what someone didn’t do for you. Quit waiting for a handout. Did you think some fairy godmother or knight in shining armor was coming to save you? No one is coming. This is all on you. Grow up and get after it.

Isaiah Hankel

10. There are things that are simply outside of your control

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At this point, I want you to read the words again: Some things are simply outside your control. Without a doubt, the pandemic has a special talent to impress in our feeble minds that we are limited forms of life. As a person who once had a high tendency of acting like a control freak, having things outside of my control is belittling, however, walking through this pandemic, I realized that having things outside of my control is completely normal. Life happens and there is nothing anyone can do about it, but to sit, wait and faithfully trust the One who authors all things.

Last year led me to trust the Lord even more and I am grateful because through these circumstances, He had allowed me to see Him in a way that I have never seen Him before. During the moments when I felt I have no control in anything that is happening in my life, He was at His strongest and He remains that way. By this encounter, I get to be reminded that there is hope, that even if I cannot do anything, He can do something, even if I am powerless, He is powerful and regardless if I can comprehend His will or not, He has a plan—the best one. A plan for me, for you and to those people who continues to love, trust and believe in Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Jeremiah 29:11

Q&A: Question and Action

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020? What practical action can you do to bring that lesson and apply it in 2021?

I would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


About the Writer:

Elijah Wayne Marin is a self-improvement blogger from the Philippines. He is a medical laboratory science student who began blogging in the midst of a pandemic. His goal is to empower young people in breaking their boundaries by providing tips, motivation and relevant information about personal development.

If you want to receive newsletters and remain updated on self-improvement, you can follow Go Develop Yourself here.

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