I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling very Adventy this Advent. I don’t have that sense of anticipation, the expectation that is often present in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I’m not feeling all close and cozy with Jesus, or particularly prayerful or joyous or even spiritual. I’m just…here. Slogging. Going through the motions.
It can make a person feel like a real loser, can’t it? I mean really, who doesn’t feel Adventy during Advent? Who feels emptiness instead of fullness? Absence instead of closeness? Scarcity instead of abundance? Something akin to grief instead of joy?
I find myself wishing it were Lent instead. Somehow these feelings would seem more acceptable during Lent.
Last week I read a stunningly beautiful blog post. My fellow blogger friends had linked to it on various social media, and so I finally clicked over and read it myself. And it was beautiful. But when I read the last line of that beautiful post, instead of feeling full or grateful, or in awe of God’s grace and love, I felt…nothing.
In fact, truth be told, I felt worse than nothing. I felt jaded and cynical and hopeless. Not what the writer had intended, I’m sure. It shook me up. My reaction to that post was like a punch to the gut because reading it made me feel like I’d failed.
Failed in my faith.
Failed in my relationship with God.
Failed in my weak attempts to find Jesus in Advent.
That beautiful blog post brought everything I’d been feeling, everything I’d squelched and smoothed over and pretended didn’t exist, right to the forefront in technicolor clarity.
You know, when I first started down this wild, weedy path into the deep, dark wilderness, I thought it was all related to my career and my calling as a writer. My heart-book had tanked, my publisher had let me go, I wasn’t sure where I was headed next. It was a career- and calling-related wilderness, that I knew for sure.
Lately, though, I’m beginning to suspect this jaunt into the wilderness is about God’s work in me, not just as a writer, or as a person called to a particular work, but simply as a person period.
Early in this wilderness journey part of me was excited. I brimmed with hope and anticipation, eager to see what God was going to do next. My faith was full and robust. I was nervous and anxious, yes, but it was an excited, anticipatory nervousness. I was poised to embrace God’s next big thing for me. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do.
That was three months ago. I’m still waiting.
Turns out, this wilderness, this period of refining and transforming that God has led me toward feels a lot less exciting and anticipatory right now. In fact, it feels quite a bit like labor – labor of the child-birth variety.
During the early hours of labor with Noah, my first-born, I sat outside on the back patio, my hands resting on my big belly as it tightened and released, tightened and released. I called friends and chatted happily. Later I paced the backyard, deep-breathing in August air as the ciccadas sawed the thick humidity. I thought about my baby boy, my heart and head and gut a tangle of nervous, jangling joy.
Fourteen hours later I lay in a hospital bed in the dark. The nurse had piled three or four blankets on top of me. They were warm from the dryer, but still, I shook uncontrollably from somewhere deep in my core, like seismic waves rippling out from an epicenter. It wasn’t cold exactly, and I wasn’t in pain – the epidural had largely alleviated that — but something terrible and unfamiliar and frightening was happening to my body.
“You’re in transition,” the nurse told me, patting my shoulder as I gripped the sheets in my fists.
I was afraid. Around me the voices of encouragement receded, hollow and distant. Everything grew hazy, the end point a dim prick of light. I lost focus. The goal seemed far away, unreachable. So fixed was I on the fear and the unfamiliar, I lost sight of everything else, including the baby boy I was about to birth into the world.
Transition. Not the most appealing part of labor, and, it turns out, not the most appealing part of the wilderness journey either. Transition leaves you feeling shaky, out of control, lost and anxious. Transition dims your focus, blurs the way, has you gripping the bed sheets with two fists. Transition is when the hard, necessary work gets done, the work that will lead you out the other side again. But it’s not fun. It’s lonely, difficult and shaky.
The morning after I read the beautiful blog post that left me feeling like an empty egg carton, all hollow and stiff, I read some words in John. I read them over and over again, which is unusual for me. But something kept bringing me right back to the start of the paragraph to read and reread the same words again:
“Your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy, that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time of grief, but I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:20-22)
Your time has come, says the Lord. Now is your time of grief.
Maybe you’re like me right now. Maybe you’re not feeling particularly Adventy this Advent. Maybe you’re feeling a little lost, a bit afraid, lonely, weary, shaky. Maybe you’re doing the hard work of transition. Maybe you’re not seeing Jesus very clearly right now when it seems like everyone else and his brother is.
It’s okay. Those words I read in John? Those words are from God, telling me, and you, that it’s okay.
Now is my time of grief. And the timing may be less than perfect, it being Advent and all, but now is the time nonetheless. There’s hope. God will see me again, and I will see him. And we will rejoice, Jesus assures me, for no one can take away our joy.