" Clearly, if I want to see change in the world, I’ve gotta work on myself first. "
Poor 2020 — it never asked to be everyone’s whipping boy. Yet, if ever there was a year that reeked of apocalyptic nightmares rivaling biblical proportions, 2020 was it.

Catastrophic calamities abounded: A global pandemic that left hundreds of thousands seriously ill and many others dead. Economic upheaval. Racial division and violence. Out-of-control wildfires. Swarms of locusts. Mandatory isolation. And whatever that first presidential debate was. Terrible things happened, and it was obviously all 2020’s fault.

Personally, I limped toward the end of December utterly exhausted from being tossed about by the waves of myriad circumstances beyond my control. Cockeyed optimist that I am, I hoped that by climbing out of the dumpster fire that was 2020 and landing in the clean and fresh newness of 2021, all would be back to some semblance of “normal.”

In the Great New Year of 2021, I envisioned faces joyously unmasked. People gathering closer than six feet apart in coffee shops, schools, churches, airport, and bowling alleys. Illness and suffering eradicated. Equality established. Economic stability returned. Civil dialogue restored. Environmental challenges resolved. Yes — in 2021 — justice and peace would kiss. Balance would finally be restored to the galaxy.

Alas, a few weeks into January reveals that, like every other year, 2021 brings with it both sunshine and rain, joys and sorrows. There are celebrations and visits to Urgent Care (yes, already). There are virtual hugs and anxious texts about COVID-inflicted grandparents. Flipping calendar pages doesn’t save us from what we’ve done or what we’ve failed to do. Our fairy godmother can’t magically erase the past or bibbidi-bobbidy-boop us into everlasting peace, security, and sweet potato fries with the wave of a wand. How, then, are we to respond?

2020 took away much, yet if it gave me anything, it was perspective. I discovered that being unable to socialize or touch my face was more miserable than it sounds. I learned that I make mountains out of molehills with alarming frequency and need to, well, chill. I pondered important things, like, how much I missed my family and friends, and how our router could withstand so many simultaneous Zoom calls. I also considered how I was living as a Christian. In times of great trial, was I yearning for earthly comforts like coffee dates and the occasional mani/pedi, or was I living as one imbued with the Holy Spirit with expectant hope of heaven? I wondered what, if anything, I could control.

Diving into Scripture almost every day brought me great consolation last year. The Gospel of Matthew reminded me that Christians bear good fruit (7:16-20). I was sure that fruit wasn’t grumbling, worrying, moping, or eating the rest of the mint chocolate chip ice cream late at night. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul exhorts the early Christians to walk not by the flesh (“I want this, I need that, woe is me, I, I, I,”) but by the Spirit (5:16). He then lists the fruit of the Spirit.

You might wonder, “What is the fruit of the Spirit? Isn’t it love, peace, money, joy, shopping, and a trip to Maui?

Close.

St. Paul identifies the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Man! Bearing that juicy fruit sounded like the kind of life I wanted to live, in good times and bad. Plus, it sounded like a “how to” manual for being authentically Christian. I was convinced I needed to ditch my sour grapes and rededicate myself to cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit in my daily life, one choice at a time.

Here are some simple examples of what I mean: Putting down your phone and giving someone your full attention cultivates love. Speaking softly when you’d rather scream cultivates gentleness. Affirming your friend cultivates kindness. Not being aggravated when the cashier (child/Wi-Fi/traffic) is slower than you’d prefer cultivates patience. Resting in God’s providence despite difficulty cultivates peace. And on it goes.

Of course, there’s much I’d overhaul in this world, not the least of which is the craptastic way many of those people over there (mis)behave. Scripture reminds me, however, that I can stop pointing out all those other folks’ faults and failings until I remove the nasty, fleshly, sinful ways from my own life (Matthew 7:4-5). Clearly, if I want to see change in the world, I’ve gotta work on myself first.

So, will my humble efforts make any difference this year? Only God knows. I’ll try to keep you posted. Meanwhile, I bet we’d improve our odds of helping God’s Kingdom come and making this world a better place if we work together. Ya say ya wanna revolution? Let’s resolve to live by the Spirit, cultivating good fruit one moment, one choice, one day at a time during this Year of Our Lord 2021. Please let us know how it’s going. Cheers!

Renshaw is a wife, mother and author who lives in the wildlands of suburban Portland.