Today marks the last day of the year 2020. At midnight, with the tick of the clock, a new calendar year will be ushered in. Will the chaos of this past year continue on into 2021, or will that subside and give way to a more hopeful time? Folks will make New Year’s resolutions which most will soon forget about, as the optimism of a New Year gives way to the struggles of making actual change. As we thought about this past year and wondered about the year ahead our thoughts turned to an ancient song (about a thousand years old) referred to as Dayenu. This Hebrew word’s approximate English translation is “It would have been enough.” Dayenu is traditionally sung or recited at both Orthodox and Messianic Passover celebrations.
As a people in 2020, we were daily assaulted with political posturing and acrimonious “debate,” along with the usual accusations of moral corruption of various kinds, accompanying denials and/or non-apologetic apologies, followed of course by counter accusations. Once harmonious families and friendships have been deeply and hurtfully divided along partisan lines. True, the differences may be “only” political, but these days, everything is political, which tends to rob harmony from families and the nation as a whole. What can anyone talk about today that won’t arouse fierce anger in someone “on the other side” of the divide? Covid? No. The climate? No. Gender issues? No. Critical race theory? No. The election fallout? Are you nuts?
Then there is the rise in violence in our culture, only worsened in 2020. We are treated to a mass shooting on what almost seems is a weekly basis. Gangs seem to own our major cities, murdering at will, with not many brought to justice. “Peaceful demonstrators” have spent much of 2020 looting, pillaging, burning down businesses and demanding the police be defunded, many without wearing a mask! Often the groups doing the rioting have been fully protected by Mayors and State Governors, while police have been physically attacked, and many killed.
Then of course, many people have lost their lives or loved ones to Covid – while countless others are having to bear their burdens alone in isolation. Loneliness is rampant. Suicide is up. Drug use is way up. Many of our friends and loved ones have lost or are losing jobs and businesses necessary to provide for their families, and countless people are in dire financial straits. Added to that, many marriages are splintering because of that hardship.
Taking in this steady stream of violence, pain, rage, and acrimony can certainly be bad for one’s mental and spiritual state. Years like 2020 seem to focus all our attention on everything wrong or unfair in our world. We know it is not even good for our physical health to dwell overmuch on darkness. And yet, we cannot deceive ourselves into imagining that grief and pain can be swept away with the wave of a hand. Is it unchristian to feel grief about people we have lost or about what is happening in the nation we love and in the world? Unchristian to mourn our own and other’s losses and feel terribly sad for the pain our loved ones are feeling? Unchristian to feel anger at unfair portrayals of our faith and the blatant double standards in the media? And yet, we cannot let these things to rob us of our joy, and of our faith in God and in ultimate justice. Recognizing the evil around us must be counter-balanced with what we know is good and right and loving, and by recognizing God’s goodness toward His people in the midst of the dark times.
This is where the concept of Dayenu can be helpful.
Dayenu has 15 stanzas representing the 15 gifts God bestowed. The first five involve freeing the Jews from slavery, the next describe the miracles He did for them, and the last five for the closeness to God He gave them. Each of the stanzas is followed by the word “Dayenu” (it would have been enough) sung repeatedly.
The song is simple and reminds those who engage in this tradition to be thankful, grateful to God for all He has done for us. God owes us nothing; therefore, anything He does for us…is a gift. “If He had brought us out of Egypt, it would have been enough.” But that isn’t where God stopped. “If He had executed justice upon the Egyptians, it would have been enough.” If He had …”
As we personally reflect on Dayenu, we find good reason to be incredibly thankful for all of God’s blessings throughout our lives, and even during this time. Granted, not everyone has been blessed in the same ways, but most of us can find plentiful blessings to remind us of God’s goodness towards us. For our part, if He only had allowed us to be born into a free country, it would have been enough. If He only had given us loving parents, it would have been enough. If He only had given us a compatible partner with whom to share life, it would have been enough. If He only had given us lifelong friends who love us despite truly knowing us, it would have been enough. If He only had given us beautiful children to raise and love, it would have been enough. If He only had given us grandchildren to spoil to our heart’s content, it would have been enough. If we only had been given good food and good times to share with loved ones, it would have been enough. But oh, He has given us so much more!
He gave us a Christian heritage in this nation, enabling us to anchor our faith with the faith of our fathers. He gave us the gift of His Son, so we could gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. He gave us a relationship with Himself, so we can daily commune and share our burdens with Him. He gave us hope for the wonderful future that awaits us. Though we may sometimes feel the world is against us, God is with us, and has promised not to leave us. The deeper one ponders, the longer the list grows. We have brothers, sisters, pastors, and friends, and we have plentiful reasons to love and laugh. All these and more come from the hand of the One Who created and sustains the entire universe. He owes us nothing but gives us so much. On this day, in preparation to ring in the New Year, we say “Dayenu.” If all He gave us was all He has given us up to this moment, it would be way more than enough!
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
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