The holiday season… Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years – full of time to slow down, be with family, rest, and reflect on the year. Oh, and write papers, finish finals, balance multiple jobs, shop for presents, fight holiday traffic, try to survive the mobs of people, (most likely) get sick, clean the house, prepare for visitors or prepare to travel, etc. etc. etc. Such a peaceful time of year, wouldn’t you agree?
I don’t know about you, but the past month and a half has been a complete sprint for me. Most of the items on the list above have been the reality of my life since the middle of November. Finishing up my second to last semester of grad school, working multiple jobs, traveling to visit family, trying to survive the angry crowds (full of holiday cheer …). And just days before Christmas, as my body finally let down from the madness, I found myself sick in bed.
You would think that having to stay home sick would have actually been a relief after the past month. But instead I found myself bored by 10am – what does that say about the state of my soul? Slowing down, resting, pausing – they all sounded so wonderful in theory, but as soon as I faced the reality, I found myself agitated and bored. So accustomed to rushing through life that restlessness ensued the moment I slowed down. Had I really created so little space for my soul that this was where I found myself in the silence? Immediately guilt began to creep in.
Perhaps you can relate? Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar rat race trying to keep up with the demands of life from a hundred different directions? Perhaps you also notice this aversion to quiet in your own soul? Or perhaps you have been running so fast that you haven’t even had a chance to notice your own soul’s response to the quiet? Maybe you are just longing to have a moment of peace?
If you are like me, wherever you find yourself there is a hint of guilt. The perfectionism sneaks in and you begin facing a list of “shoulds”. I should be making more space in my life for what really matters. I should be finding more balance. I should be slowing down to be present to God, my own heart, and others. I should be appreciating the space I have instead of feeling bored. Before I know it, I am beating myself up over the things I should be doing differently and criticizing myself for not finding a healthier balance in life.
But that morning, as I sat sick in bed – thinking all the thoughts and feeling all the feelings I mentioned above – I was struck by something. The hope of the advent season is this – Emmanuel: God with us. The Christmas story is one of God consistently breaking in to individual lives. Mary and Joseph weren’t looking with expectation to parent the Messiah – trying to figure out how to get God to show up – but God broke in. The shepherds were not anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, but the angel appeared to them and invited them to take part in the birth of the Messiah – God broke in. The wise men might have been watching the stars, but they certainly could not have anticipated the profound event they would be invited to share in – once again, God broke in. And of course, when the world went to sleep the night of Jesus’ birth, no one had any idea what would take place.
On a night just like any other night, Jesus, God incarnate, broke in to our world.
One of the most beautiful things about the story God is writing throughout history and in our lives presently is that it is a story about God breaking in. He consistently makes the first move and invites us to respond – not as obligation, but as invitation. So often I get swept up in illusions of grandeur. Holding expectations of myself to live a perfectly contemplative life – to be present to God, present to myself, and present to others all the time. I want to find God. I want to figure out my own life. I want to be everyone else’s savior. And then I notice how much “I” there is in those statements. How much these things are motivated by my own pride. And even more deeply, how much these things stem from my fear that if I don’t hold it all together, no one else will. All the while knowing the reality of my own mess that makes it impossible to manage my own life as I feel I ought – a recipe for anxiety, fear, and loneliness.
And so I pause. As I reflected in the moment, Emmanuel: God with me, present. As I sat in my boredom and agitation with the silence, Emmanuel: God with me. As I ran through life this past month, far too distracted to notice Him, Emmanuel: God with me. When I have it right, Emmanuel. When I get it wrong, Emmanuel. When we are busy, tired, bored, stressed, anxious, lonely, joyful, depressed, anticipating, distracted: God with us.
Where do you find yourself today? What is on your mind? What are you feeling? Have you felt connected? Disconnected? Attentive? Distracted? Maybe you have been running too fast to even know. But the truth is this, Emmanuel: God with you. This is the Gospel – this is Grace.