by Elyssa J. Salinas-Lazarski

I’m a planner. I like to look at my month, my week, my day in color-coded control. I have stickers to help me see my to-do lists and multiple pens to keep my thoughts organized. I even have more than one planner to help me keep everything in an orderly fashion. But one of my favorite parts of both my planners is the ability to reflect.

Each month my planner has a list of questions prompting me to consider the previous month: events that stood out, ways I spent my time, people who showed up in profound ways. I’ve been thinking about this notion of reflection at the end of one of the most memorable years of my life, 2020.

I don’t think I’m alone in considering this year as memorable because so much has happened while I’ve been working from home with my family.

It feels unimaginable that this year could ever come to an end, and yet here we are… December, finally. Sometimes I feel like I’m holding my breath for the year to come to an end. So much has been lost.

I think back to March and April when it just felt like we were losing the ability to hold one another. I was scared, unsure, and frustrated at the inability to find hand soap.

I was mostly terrified because I was in my third trimester, and I knew that my baby would be born during a pandemic. I was worried that I might have to be alone at the hospital or that I would catch Covid-19 and hurt my baby.

On April 14, my second child was born via c-section. My husband was the first one to hold him, and we went home safely.

On November 14, another surgery was happening. This time an old friend needed a routine surgery after a simple misstep on a stair. After some complications, this young woman did not wake up. She did not go home to her husband for just over a year. She will not get to see the heavy exhale of the end of 2020. She was one of the dear ones lost to it.

When I heard, I held my son, and my exhale was a rupture of tears and wailing. The friend who called to tell me sounded like she was gasping for air. We both were.

After hearing the news, I searched my Bible for something. I’m not sure if I was looking for comfort or an answer, but I went to the psalm that always sits in my heart. It begins, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” This sentiment felt right, but by the end of this short psalm, the speaker says, “my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” I was not ready for rejoicing, and honestly, I’m still not. Why was this psalmist so quick to trust and rejoice? I needed more time and more mourning.

I found John 11:35. “Jesus began to weep.” This resonated with me, but then I kept weeping, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. I kept searching.
Finally, I found Luke 6:21. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” At first, I stepped away from this passage, but then I thought back to how I remembered her. I was on a video call with a mutual friend, the one who called to let me know, and we lamented how we couldn’t hold each other, so we would at least see each other.

We wept and sat in disbelief across our screens. But then we started remembering little things about our friend that made us smile and, eventually, made us laugh. We never stopped crying, and the laughing came and went, but this wavering between the two felt right.

This beatitude promise from Luke leaves space for weeping and for laughing. It lets the mourner waver in between because there is nowhere to indeed land. We are suspended, wading through various emotions while also trying to find a reason why. We wipe our tears, hoping at the end of this tissue box there will be some answer, but there is none. There are only a pile of crumpled tissues and an empty box.

There is almost an emptiness in searching for a reason, but sometimes it is all we can do because the alternative of accepting a stupid and tragic ending is too painful. It is all too painful.

So we wait.

Sometimes we wait for an answer that we might never get. Sometimes we wait for a why when no reason will ever be enough. We wait for an answer. We wait for a reason.

We are ending the year without thousands of our friends, family, and neighbors. We are waiting for a reason where there is none.

We are in deep mourning for a world and a people we once knew, but we are moving toward a new day without these souls and faces that we can only cling to in pictures and ghosts of messages that echo on our Facebook pages.

We talk about waiting and hope during Advent. But there is also a deep lament alongside that deep joy.

I gave birth to my son this year, and I lost a dear friend. Both happened, and both deserve to be remembered. There is laughter among the weeping, sometimes in the same breath. I was holding my son when I heard the news about my friend. That is not an answer, but it is the truth.

I do not know if we will ever know the answers. But I do know that we have a God who waits with us, weeps with us, and holds us in the terrible unknowing. We have a God holding us as we cry painful tears and joins us in remembering laughter. We have a God that stays with us as we wait.

Discussion questions:

1. How are you different at the end of this year?

2. What does it mean to have a God who waits with us?

3. What does it mean for you to hold the tension between laughter and tears?

Closing prayer:
God of patience and waiting, hold onto our tears alongside our laughter. At the end of such a year, hold space for our mourning and our joy. Be with us as we venture forth with new lessons and without loved ones. Let us look to one another, through screens and with masks as we mark the end of the year and the birth of the Messiah. In your name we pray, amen.

Elyssa is a doctoral student in theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She focuses on theology of the body and sex. Alongside her studies, she is a poet and hobby baker. As a writer, Elyssa’s poetry and blogging can be found at Boldcafé, The Mudroom, Naked and Unashamed, and We Talk, We Listen. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, and two cats.