It’s the day following Christmas as I write. While the holiday decorations will remain for a while longer, the kitchen has been swept clean and the boxes and wrappings taken out to the bins in the garage. Within me is a low, hollow feeling, the mood I experience now the day following one spent with both of my adult children in the house. A kind of loneliness for them, a longing for times when as the day ended, my children had nowhere else to go but to their rooms down the hall.

Perhaps you find yourself in a kind of pensive mood, too. Normally, it’s the time of year family meals, holiday vacations, big football games, New Year countdowns and fireworks help us conjure confidence in the coming new year. But this year, it has all stood in shadow as we continue to struggle with life changed by a continuing pandemic.

While my nuclear family follows the science, has had all our shots and wears masks when we are in public spaces, we have struggled with extended family members who will not. This virulent virus doesn’t care. Human bodies are its hosts. We are now two years into this world health crisis and a lot continues to be asked of us.

As we begin the year 2022, how will you choose to live your life? As I see the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at sports stadiums this fall and videos from friends attending live indoor concerts, I know that a portion of us have chosen to forge ahead, resigned to the protection of vaccinations, no longer willing to give up the meaningful activities that make life enjoyable. These are folks, I like to think, who don’t have small children in their homes, or vulnerable elderly nearby, or a nurse friend who is so stressed in her hospital job she feels empty and depleted.

It’s an optimistic perspective, that life should now go on, not just for our mental health but for the sake of our children’s education and social skills, for our local and international businesses. I understand the even-minded, hopeful, even resolute perspective of trusting what you have done and carrying on. Perhaps you have a brand-new job, just found the exact home you’ve been saving for, or welcomed a new family member. How wonderful these milestones — congratulations!

Many others are entering this coming year with chronic anxiety and loss. Deaths were made even more difficult without familiar community rituals like visiting in hospitals, church funerals or home gatherings. Many of the online high school class of 2020 started college. Important travel has been delayed or cancelled altogether. People wait in hospital hallways for a bed to open. Trying to triage hospital resources, necessary surgeries have been postponed. Without steady classroom support, many children have lost more than a year of learning. Decades of neglecting our system for mental health means it can’t keep up with current demand.

2021? We’re all happy to see it go.

What little energy is left to celebrate a new year is focused on hope that 2022 will be different. It has been an awful international experience, reminding us that we are truly a small, interconnected planet. As you think about the new calendar year, how will orient your life?

Christians around the world celebrate Christmas for 12 days, a season that lasts through the last week of the year into the first full week of January. While Christmas may be shrouded in myth and mystery, it’s meaning is clear: God is not somewhere out there, at the edges of an expanding universe, unmoved, unreachable, unknown. God is with us, we say and sing, Emmanuel. God is close in, and at a particular time in human history embodied Jesus, who demonstrated by story, command, miracle and sacrifice that the central purpose of this life is to love.

And as God loves us, we are called to love one another. This is the central focus of Christian life, despite all the human trappings loaded upon it over the centuries. As you contemplate the end of one year and the beginning of the next, may you be held in love and find every way you can to love yourself, your loved ones and your neighbors. The world needs your love more than ever. Happy New Year.

The Rev. Lynne Silva-Breen, M.Div., M.A., LMFT, served for over 20 years as a Lutheran parish pastor. She’s currently a family therapist/pastoral counselor and can be contacted at inspiringchange.us. She is one of several area pastors who write for “Spiritual Reflections,” a weekly column appearing in this newspaper.

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