“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.””
Folks, there are just some experiences we have in life that we can never be the same on the other side of. Saul’s conversion to the Apostle Paul in Acts chapter 9 is an infamous story of this type of experience. It was an ordinary day for Saul. He went on about his day doing what he thought was right. It just so happens that what he was doing on this day, and in days previous, which he believed was the right thing was serving no knock warrants for Christians in an effort to arrest them and throw them into prison. He was highly successful and highly regarded for his work. This time, however, when he set off on the road to Damascus with the warrant in hand, he never could have imagined how his life would be changed. Jesus himself stepped in and interrupted everything Saul had going on. He was knocked off his horse and off his high horse. The way he knew and understood the world before the Damascus road was completely different after it. And, when it was all said and done, instead of knocking people over the head who believed in Jesus, he was preaching Jesus!
This man was not the same!
When people say, “new year, new me,” and after our eyes have stopped rolling because of it, we understand that they are saying that in the next year they will be different in some obvious and discernible way than they were in the previous year. There is some intentional thing or things that they are going to do in order to be “new.” Unlike the “new year, new me” crowd, many of us entered into 2021 already “new.” And there was nothing we intentionally planned to do to make it that way. The entirety of the year 2020 was one of those experiences that we had where when we came out on the other side, we were not the same. Or, at least, I personally don’t see how any of us could be.
It started with the loss of a sports hero, and my favorite basketball player, in Kobe Bean Bryant and continued later in the year with the loss of a global movie icon, Chadwick Boseman, who inspired whole generations of Black people and people of color across the world to see themselves as a hero. These losses only magnified the loss of life we experienced as individuals, families, and as a church family. Then the losses of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daniel Prude, and so many others to the evils of racist policing and racists vigilantes were magnified and the subsequent response was intensified! The loss of jobs, homes, food, finances, security, safety, and good health were also intensified. All of this was magnified and much of the death and losses (but not all) were due to the elephant in the room that I haven’t even yet mentioned. Oh yeah. That elephant known as covid-19 or the coronavirus. This pandemic caused much of what I just mentioned, and it forced us into isolation. We have been quarantined, or we should be, at this point for 10 months!
The pain, uncomfortableness, confusion, delay, rejection, loss, letting go, and the collective trauma has changed most, if not all of us. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Many of us are changed for the better. Yes, I know that’s hard to swallow, but it’s true.
Many of us have grown in our faith in and relationship with God!
Many of us have shifted careers, shifted gears, and shifted perspective altogether!
Many of us have reconnected with family and friends in ways we never thought possible.
Many of us have pruned unneeded and toxic relationships from our orbit!
Many of us have simply had the opportunity to reflect, reorganize our lives, and grow to love ourselves!
For me personally, I am not the same husband I was. I am not the same father. I am not the same friend. I am not the same preacher. I am not the same pastor. I am not the same person who entered into last year. A few days into this new year, yes, this is a new me! Yes, there has been tremendous growth! Yes, I am repurposed!
Like Saul who becomes Paul, we have gone through an experience that has fundamentally changed who we are. God did not cause covid-19 or the intensity of the struggle that was 2020, but God has used it to make us “new.”