O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…
The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love. The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable. You get it. You might be in the middle of it. Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long? How much? Why? Why especially right now?”
I love the holiday season. From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions. Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few. (A quick confession: I like this paragraph more than the first one. I want to live here. I want all good things, happy thoughts.)
The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now. Shauna Niequist says,
“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning. Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl. There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled. However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting. Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable. Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering. Do NOT minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.” This is not an easy place. I struggle with Advent. I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it. I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come. As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”
Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end. Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain. It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now). It does NOT bring true healing. Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing. Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior. Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.
God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times. Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.
We still have more than two weeks until Christmas. Let’s not skip to it. Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation. Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love. Let’s be okay in the waiting. Christmas will come soon enough. A baby will be here. A Savior will come. What is empty will be filled. Heartache will be healed. Yearning will be fulfilled. What is broken will be repaired. What we’ve lost will be found. But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!
(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)
Advent is the “Howl of the Not-Yet,” the WAITING for wrong to be made right, hopes to be made sight, broken places to be healed and questions to be answered. We wait for God to come. We wait for Christmas morning!
Our journeys are bumpy, filled with twists and turns, steps forward and slides backward, confusion and clarity, the messy and the beautiful. It can seem like Advent never ends. We cry out! We howl! We plead! “How long? How long?” We wait.
But is waiting only reserved for us? Are we the only ones who cry and long and plead? What if God has His own Advent, His own howl, His own waiting. What if God is waiting for us?
Join with my friend Annie Ellerbusch as she uncovers this.
I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about waiting (the Season we have upon us). What am I waiting for? What have I been waiting for all my life? Maybe it’s more like what am I missing? I know I am missing something, but what is it?
As I persisted in thinking, I realized I had been focused on my waiting, MY waiting. But I was not the only one waiting. God was waiting for me. God had been for a long time.
God was waiting in the most intimate places of my being, in the parts that only the two of us could visit, the memories that only the two of us shared, the places where I pushed down all that I could not accept, understand, or live with
…all the parts that I had ignored, dismissed, disowned, outgrown, left behind, rejected, abandoned, hid away or hid from
…all the parts that I could not expose or share, that needed to be locked away for their own protection, or to protect myself and others
…all the parts that were either too bad or too dangerous to be set free, or too good and precious to risk losing
God was there waiting for me, waiting IN me.
God was keeping all the parts safe, every one of them. God valued and treasured all of them, all of me. The words that came to me were intense, even insistent.
“It is your JOB and your JOY to take care of all of your parts, to take care of your self. Only you can do it. No one else will do it for you. No one else CAN do it for you. Not even ME. This is your job, your responsibility.
This is also your gift. You are a GIFT. You are My gift to Me. You are My gift to you. You are My gift to the world.
Take your self. Love your self. Own your self. Care for your self.
Trust me. You will see. You will see what good will come from this.”
God was waiting for me to come and claim all my parts, to look at them and learn about them, to see them and hear them, to understand them, to accept and love them, to learn to care about them and for them, to welcome them back, to gather them up into the whole, my whole
. . . to inhabit my own wholeness , wholly known, wholly loved, and wholly free.