Monday, December 15, 2014

Choosing to Remember

The first Sunday of Advent turned out much the way I thought it would. Wonderful time at church with our community, a hurried lunch and cooking soup for our evening out and then a fantastic time making wreaths. My son made a new friend his age, I had a great time chatting with some recently made friends, the food was delicious and the celebration meaningful.

Then I hit Monday morning. I opened my computer while it was still dark and sipped my coffee while I read that morning devotional. I thought about the challenge issued to our community on Sunday morning- a challenge to breathe in Hope and breathe out Fear. And to try to do it constantly this week. I thought about all the articles on Ferguson I have open in my browser, all the pain I've been reading about and thinking about, the protests, the mess, the anger, the injustice. I thought about how my life right now is not in a tangible period of waiting or suffering. And I wondered how to truly dig into Advent when things feel good and right. Why should I invite the idea of suffering into my mornings when all is well?

My pastor never urged us to breathe out suffering, incidentally. None of the devotionals or articles encouraging us to step back from the harried season and think are encouraging us to avoid suffering.

I spent 6 advents waiting. 5 of those advents I felt significant suffering- the loss of Amara, the continual defeat of infertility, the loneliness of living in a place with few friends. But the bottom line was suffering and waiting were real to me. They were tangible. The act of digging in to the deep part of Advent was not actually that difficult. It was the hope and joy of Christmas that seemed elusive. 

During this season when joy feels present, when hope is easy for me, I have to remember that for a lot of people, the opposite is true. They are where I was last year, quite possibly walking in much worse places than I myself have treaded. To avoid this, to run from suffering, to only choose to remember the Light, is to forget what Advent truly means. It is to deny that there is real hurt, real pain being experienced by my fellow man. And that during Advent (and really during the rest of the year), part of the following of Christ means entering into the darkness of the world around me, empathizing, listening, grieving and, yes, still hoping. 

One of my favorite advent posts I have read this season came shortly after the Ferguson decision. Christina Cleveland writes:

"We do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness... Advent is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. For when we dive into the depths of our worst world, we reach a critical point at which our chocolate and pageants no longer satiate our longing for hope – and we are liberated by this realization. Indeed, the light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness." 

So while it would be easy for me to find satisfaction in the chocolate and pageants and Christmas "spirit" that swirl loudly around me, the harder work of keeping my eyes open, of staying awake to the quieter pain is worth it. Even reading back through my own feelings in past years and remembering the sadness, the yearning, the pain, the never-ending wait is powerful. While I didn't enjoy those emotions at the time, I choose to remind myself. I choose not to skip straight to the joy. I choose to remember. 

Matt Jenson, in his post in the Biola Advent Project writes that "in Advent, not only do we anticipate remembering; we also remember to anticipate, to yearn for the day when Christ comes again."

Indeed, we are waiting and hoping in a Christ we know has already come. And at the same time, we anticipate another coming, another fulfillment, an end to the darkness. An end to injustice and fear and pain and miscarriage and unfulfilled longings. 

The hardest thing for me is to know the suffering and the darkness and not fear it. To know that while I am in a period of fulfilled longings right now, I do not know what pain lies ahead. To train myself to breathe in hope in the mornings and breathe out the fear of the unknown. To continue to learn how to wait on the Lord and the day of His coming, one day at a time, even when my earthly waiting is temporarily stilled and joyfully fulfilled. 

That is the work of advent for me this year. The choice to remember, the choice to see, to feel the darkness in the world even as I rejoice in the beauty of the gifts I've been given. And the choice to continue in hope, to invite the Light to shine into a broken, hurting, yearning world. 

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