It’s all so magical, the belly-warming glow of the lights juxtaposed with the sparkling winter chill, bells lingering in the air, chimed from towers and bell choirs, scheming up just the perfect gift for children and friends, imagining their faces a million times before they even open the gift: there is so much to love about Advent and the Christmas season.
I think the most reassuring part is the countdown, the knowing when Christmas and presents and family and cider and joy will finally be here. There is stress in the preparation and travel, but there is a knowing: it will be here soon, and it will all be worth it.
I am thankful for the ritual of Advent, to remind us that waiting has an end, that the thing we long for will come if we are faithful.
But I think our adorable Advent calendars with 25 little doors hiding tiny chocolates are a little misleading. Unless it is a pregnancy, a wedding, or the day of school starts or ends, there are rarely clear beginnings and endings to the biggest things in our lives.
We cannot count down until we meet our future husband or wife. We cannot schedule a date on the calendar for when we will finally be done with infertility and celebrate a pregnancy. We cannot put an end date to the painful season of unemployment when no matter how hard we try, nothing is opening. We can’t say of our estranged spouse or child, ‘Well, at least we know they will be home next year.’ Because we don’t know. We just don’t know.
Most of our lives, the crises, the hardships, the sorrows and joys promise no guarantee of beginning or end. We live day by day, just making it through, at times breath to breath, extracting every last ounce of grace to deal with the disappointment that we are not…there…yet.
This is why we need Hope so badly. We are lost without it. We give up on dreams and quit living when we lose our Hope.
The Pessimist, claiming to be a Realist, says, “Because it has not happened yet, it will probably not happen,” to which Hope replies with confidence, “Each day that passes is one day closer to the longing fulfilled.
Hope is not drunk on idealism, envisioning a perfect future and erasing the pain and ache of the waiting. No, Hope is a perspective, a lens through which to view the world.
Hope can co-exist with waiting, and when we wait in Hope and do not let the waiting jade us, then we can move through time and space toward our desire, all the while becoming the person we must become in order to receive it.
Pessimism feeds on the idea that waiting is empty, that time between now and the arrival of The Longed-For Thing is simply finger-tapping, clock-watching and gut-wrenching ache, all the while entertaining the idea of giving up on desire for fear of letdown’s freefall.
But when we choose to feed Hope and return ourselves to the truth of who we are and who God is, we grow the very thing that readies us for the blessing.
The struggle between now and the blessing we long for is the cocoon of hope and faith.
When we wrestle with our doubt and our anger, when we tenderly let ourselves feel our disappointment but keep it in check, always surrendering it beneath the tide of God’s goodness, the struggle ends with us as champion, released from the season of claustrophobic darkness into something we never knew we wanted: a kinder, bendier, more generous version of ourselves.
Sometimes it feels it takes forever, but in the end, we’ve either become the person who is ready to receive the desire-made-manifest, or in all our fighting, we realize what we thought we wanted all along wasn’t really it at all and discover a new longing to pursue. (I have seen this happen again and again with people who were smitten by someone, longing for their love returned, but as they got to know them, they realized this person was not who they thought they were at all.)
This cocoon of waiting is an essential process for our broken human hearts because imagine if we got exactly what we wanted the precise moment we wanted it? What a curse to get your every wish granted at your beck and call.
No, the waiting is full of becoming, of warring, sculpting, shaping. The edges come off, our truest priorities and values surface, our faces and hearts soften.
The waiting is not merely waiting. It is becoming.
This struggle of waiting, or let’s call it becoming now, is not as much about receiving the thing you long for as it is about engaging with the ache and letting it shape you, letting yourself grow all the stronger and wiser for having trudged this path or wrestled this giant.
So in this New Year, let us not discuss amongst ourselves or our friends what we are waiting for, but who we are becoming as a result of the waiting. Let us not move through life, mired in resentment and disappointment without allowing the wrestling between Now and Then to beautify and enrich us.
Let’s not simply wait, my friends. Let’s Become.
Happy Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Becoming.