When I find my blood pumping, heart racing & anxiety creeping in, I usually know I need to check myself. I have calendars spread out, a rainbow assortment of Sharpie pens at the ready, books and resources dog-eared and post-it noted & notebooks of lists lined up. Next, I usually panic and send out a few emails to trusting, wise folks looking for the answer to squelch my nervous fears. My need to perform, be a perfectionist with polish gets the upper hand in my subconscious. Reason is shoved out the window.
If we step back in these moments (I am saying “we” here in hopes that I am not alone!), get some perspective and take things down to the bare bones , something lies forgotten. There was a point, one of good intentions and God-discerned truth, where we once placed our feet in the starting blocks, ready to run the race. Clear on our intentions, goals and having trained, we were ready to pace ourselves and finish strong & focused.
I fear, though, that something has been lost along the way. The anxiety is a sign to me as the little planner that resides in my head starts salivating at the plan making and expectation setting. One part feels anticipatory and the other experiences dread before I have even begun.
The season of Advent, one of waiting, expectation & preparation, is also one of darkness, unknowns and fear. We are waiting in the “in between time“, the moment of liminality where we know we are headed somewhere, but not quite finding even footing in the known or the not yet. Mary knew she would birth a baby, even felt the weight of the promise of God, and yet, Jesus was “incubating”. Even God’s own arrival here on Earth was marked with a wait. On the other side of things, resurrection followed in the same footsteps. Three days in the tomb and then, restoration and triumph.
As Advent approaches, I wonder how to sit with this concept of anticipation and waiting myself, let alone with my own children. We almost need a shock collar to keep our boys at the dinner table after they have finished eating. So looking at Advent, waiting on an inanimate concept (celebrating Jesus’ birth), is tough. My six year old is able to recite many of the stories that lead up to Christ’s birth, but when does the deeper understanding come? My fear lies in my own need to plan and perfect everything. By spinning off on activities, plans and “must dos”, the deeper understandings I so long for get buried. It can be so easy for Advent to become a guise for something else, smoke and mirrors for busyness, a never-ending list of activities and self-created expectations.
One book that has reminded me of this true underlying desire to bring Advent back to its “proper place” has been Jerusalem Greer’s “A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together“. She writes:
“It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation for the entire season and instead to revel in the mystery; to give myself permission to hold both sadness and joy, sorrow and hope, disappointment and peace in the same heart and to wait for the night when the world will, and does, begin again, revealing the wondrous, glorious morn.“
While her book has activities, crafts and cooking projects, they are all grounded in the understanding that Advent is not about the never-ending treadmill of unrealistic plans & expectations. We are called to create a space to be present, to take note, to even sit in places that feel full of disappointment and heartbreak. And….to balance it all in the Light of Hope. To cling to the promise of what comes on the other side. While we know the promise of God With Us, Emmanuel, came after those nine months and was birthed, the road there and after wasn’t easy. But the story, while long, bump-filled and tough, has cracks where the Light shines through, eventually in resurrection. As Sally Lloyd-Jones brilliantly put it in the Jesus Storybook Bible:
“It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.“
Next week I hope to share a few plans I am ironing out for this year’s Advent Season, but for myself, if no one else, I needed to start first in this place. To spend time thinking about how I’ve gotten pulled into the smoke & mirrors myself and to scale back, reorient and start again.
Luckily, the whole process of faith is about the cyclical nature of grace. We try our best & have fairly good intentions. Later we get off track. We admit it & get back on the bandwagon and give it a go again. God washes this process in love and understanding, encouraging us to get back up.
“We want to make this time holy and be made whole. And it is not easy…We recognize that the search for the Holy is so urgent and real that we are vulnerable to the lure that the commercial world offers in its promise to fill in the gaps that we so painfully feel. Materialism has contaminated the truth that ‘things’ indeed can be carrier of the Divine. We do not want to fall for the ruse or Christmas becomes just another expensive disappointment. During Advent, we are invited to be vulnerable to our long and open to our hope.” ~from To Dance with God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson
I plan to be back on Monday with a few thoughts on this year’s Advent season, but in the meantime, how are you approaching the upcoming weeks? The lead up to Christmas? Are you scaling back this year? Ramping up? Vacationing and trying to leave all the hooplah behind? What do you long for during the season of Advent? What traditions are not to be missed or forgotten in your family? Where do you find time for stillness and waiting in the midst of materialism and unrealistic expectations? I would love to hear your thoughts.