Photo credit: Hermann Auinger
I get into a funk every December. It started in 1999. By May 1999 I had a savings account, a full academic scholarship, a home, friends, a boyfriend, a church family, faith in the rightness of Christianity, and a complete set of thumbs. By December I was broke, I’d lost my scholarship because I have to move out-of-state to hide out from my stalker. He had a history of tracking women down, so I had to cut communication with all but one of my friends just in case someone accidentally mentioned where I’d gone. I’d broken up with my boyfriend and my church “family”. I was temporarily living out of a suitcase at a family friend’s house. I didn’t have my sister with me because she was living with another family friend. I couldn’t even work because I had accidentally sawed off part of my thumb, leaving me temporarily left-handed. It wasn’t just being stalked, receiving death threats, and having my house broken into. The pain didn’t go away because I moved to a safe house. It festered.
I’ve always been a sensitive person. Some people have this inspiring resiliency to life. I’m not one of those people. I don’t seem to heal. I can Scarlett O’Hara my way through most of the year, with a flippant, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that in December.” I just sort of keep limping along with open wounds. At this time of year, I feel them more acutely. This is especially true when my life seems to revert back to where I was in December 1999. I’m broke again because I can’t work again. I’m sitting on a mountain of debt as a result and it’s suffocating. I worked so hard to get my life back on track despite having to pull a total life reboot in 1999. But, yet again, I’ve had to give up the plan I had for my life. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try (and God knows I try) because I’m still just sitting here waiting since I can’t do anything else.
Then I feel guilty because other people have it worse and I’m whining about something that happened 15 years ago. At least I have a home now. And at least I wasn’t murdered. And at least I have food. And at least I have my family. But, I still can’t help thinking about what my life would have been like. If I’d gotten my degree when I was supposed to and hadn’t spent so much time making so little money, would I even have all of this debt? If I hadn’t moved away from so many people I loved, would I feel so lonely and isolated? I had a plan, dammit.
This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go.
Well, of course not. I’m not alone in that. Suffering is everywhere. Can I really look at the world and believe that this is how it’s supposed to be? The world is full of horror stories. It’s tempting to look away because it’s overwhelming, but that’s not Advent. Advent is seeing and acknowledging the suffering. Advent says, “Look. Listen. This isn’t the way things are supposed to be.”
Christmas isn’t the day God sent his son as an emissary to humanity. Christmas is the day God himself came down to earth to join humanity in our suffering even as he saved us. Christmas is the day God began to set the world right. And he allows us to participate in that work. He gave us the tools to help build the Kingdom alongside him.
Stepping back into religion was (and is) painful for me. My soul wants to run forward while my body digs its heels in and screeches, “DANGER! DANGER!” It’s messy and hard and sometimes it really, really sucks. But, why would I expect participating in a world-wide building projects would be easy?
The world hasn’t been right for a very, very long time. I feel like my whole life has been one long Advent season, but all of humanity has been living in an Advent season since the beginning. God knows things aren’t right and he wants us to stop looking away and know that too. We shouldn’t ignore our own suffering or especially anyone else’s. Because confronting this wrongness and acknowledging it is the first step in changing it.
I shouldn’t feel guilty for being in a funk because I’m right to acknowledge that wrongness. What happened to me was unjust. It’s one symptom of a world-wide problem. Recognizing the wrongness in my life can help me recognize it when I see it in the lives of others.
Maybe Advent is supposed to hurt because the world hurts.
Advent reminds us that our job isn’t done while Christmas reminds us that it has begun.
We need to continue our work. Even when it hurts. Even when it’s hard. The Kingdom Comes.