I just had one of those moments where suddenly I understand things and I can’t believe how foolish I was for missing it in the first place. Some background:
- my church has been going through the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. A few weeks ago we finished looking at the Traditionalist pathway
- We’re also, as a church, celebrating Advent with a reading and lighting of the candles each week. There’s also daily materials that I forgot existed until now.
- I’ve signed up with my local multicultural association to help as refugees start pouring into my city – training starts tomorrow.
Now, I love the advent season, I celebrate solstice (in the sense of taking time to reflect on the darkness and celebrate the return of the light) and Christmas is both a cultural and a spiritual celebration for me. I understand the history, the richness, the excitement and the depth of this time of year – holy days and sacred times. However, this year it’s all felt really flat to me. Maybe I’ve been too busy, maybe I’ve been too distracted by the cultural rituals (shopping, wrapping, hearing my kids say they want a ton of things) – whatever it was, something was missing.
Then I read this post and suddenly my heart swelled and tears were in my eyes and I understand it more. It’s not just the rituals (spiritual or cultural) or knowing the significance of the celebration, it’s taking the opportunity to feel it. To feel the anticipation, the hope, to understand the longing and the fear that comes in the waiting – what if it doesn’t get better, what if the light doesn’t come, what if we miss the Messiah – and then choosing to hope regardless. Choosing to celebrate, to feel joy. Choosing to prepare and anticipate and believe that God is bringing something that will forever change everything and that you are part of it.
I have an extra special opportunity to understand Advent this year, and I almost missed it. I almost didn’t connect the experience of helping new people settle here with the excitement and anticipation of advent. Suddenly things feel different, I’ve got that anxious excited fluttery feeling and I can’t wait to see what happens, to experience what is coming. I am so thankful to be a part of it.
A common theme in conversations and thoughts and in my heart and soul for the past few months has been abundance – abundant life and living in the Kingdom and all the good that we’re supposed to experience – now and for eternity.
What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t understand this concept at all. When I’m feeling cynical I blame it on the traditions I’ve been raised in and the culture of fear and shame that Christianity sometimes creates – how can I believe I can live abundant life when it’s so clear that I fail God over and over again, when I am obviously still a slave to sin, when I’m supposed to be humble and patient and gentle, when I’m reminded over and over again that I’m one choice away from losing my salvation.
When I’m in a more honest mood I can admit that my inability to understand abundance comes from fear. What if I’m not really saved, what if the promise of abundant life isn’t really for me. What if I am weeds and goats and bad trees. I don’t live in the Kingdom because I’m still scared that I don’t belong in the Kingdom.
The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.
Luke 14:15-24 has been in my head a lot. There’s layers of truth there, but the one that most often sticks out at me is the truth that I *don’t* belong in the kingdom. The banquet wasn’t prepared for me. I wasn’t invited based on my accomplishments or achievements or honour or status. Yet I am welcome. More than welcome, I am compelled. And there is still room for more.
I don’t need to hoard or hide away the good in my life. I don’t need to be afraid that any minute it could all turn to dust. I don’t need to be scared of being found out – and I don’t need to put on airs to try and fit in somewhere I don’t belong. I do belong, both as I am and as I am being transformed to be. There is no limit to GOd’s grace ,not for me and not for anyone around me. I can share it – all the oy and excitement and wonder and awe and blessings and good and mystery and everything else. I can share my questions and my (mis)understandings. I can share my strengths and my weaknesses. I can share my self and my time and above all I can share love. There is no limit to the love that I can share to those around me, in whatever form they are open to receiving it.
To live abundant life is to live knowing that there is more – more joy and love and wonder and more of God to know and experience and be in awe of. To know there is more and to be aware and experiencing what is in each moment. I still know that I don’t really understand the concept, but I’m trying.
How do I measure success? This question has plagued me for the last few years. At 32, I am not where I expected to be in life. I had a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan, goals and expectations. I thought I’d go on to a Masters, eventually a PHD. I thought I’d write books, that I would be recognized. As it is, I am 10 years past receiving my degree and just as long from being in a classroom. I haven’t worked in my field since the birth of my daughter 8 years ago, and the only time my degree comes close to being used is on a volunteer basis or as a sounding board for friends who moved on and were able to do what I coudn’t.
Over the years I have learned how to heal, I have battled with depression and learned how to manage it. I’ve managed an illness that kept me hardly functioning for the better part of a year. I have learned how to be a wife, how to be a mother. I have learned skills and ways of expressing myself. I’ve even managed to occasionally get paid for things I enjoy doing. Still, my husband and I are in the lowest tax bracket, and it’s hard to enjoy the time spent practicing my craft when I could be working, earing, helping to support our family. As much as can go on about the benefits of being a full time parent all of the things I am able to contribute – to my husband, our kids, our home and our friends – I struggle against the constant insecurity that it isn’t enough.
I’ve come to realize this insecurity comes from my opening question – how do I measure success? If it’s through degrees or professional accomplishments, I am doomed to always fail. If it’s in the form of finances then I feel some mix of guilt and hatred for myself that manifests as misdirected resentment for my husband for not bringing home enough. I have not travelled the globe, I have not made the world a better place, I have not been in the spotlight and applauded. Success has not been handed to me from an outside source, so how will I know when I have accomplished it?
I had to learn to let go of the expectations I had put on myself. I had to accept that I am not a woman who will have it all – a career and a family and a spotless home and a full social life. I will never be that person – and I no longer hold resentment for women who are able to have that life. For the first time in a long time I am content with my life – as it is. More than content, I feel proud of the things I have accomplished, proud of my choices, proud of the life I have created and the part I play in the lives of those around me. I measure success in the challenges I overcome, in the things that I learn, in the ways that I give, in the peace that I feel.
I am not a patient person. I rarely see the value in the journey, in the process, in the wait. Once I know something is coming, I want it. Now. The worst thing a person can do to me is send a message like “I have something I really want to talk to you about, can we get together next week?” – all I want to do is scream “No, we can get together now!”
There are things in life I am waiting for. There are plans my husband and I have that must be put on hold. It’s not idle time – it’s time of preparation and growth and I know this. I know that the timing isn’t right yet, I know there is a need to wait and there is progress in the waiting, but it is still hard.
My impatience pulls at me, begging me to start something new – a new project, a new goal, a new version of myself that I can be to fill the space until it gets to now. It’s tempting. It’s tempting to want to write or work or study – all things that would give me a different path, things that look good on the surface but don’t really get me any closer to the thing I am waiting for.
So I’m learning to enjoy the waiting. Learning to take the quiet and the moments and the days when I am not pressured and rushing as gifts. Somehow I had gotten in my mind that the pressure was a sign of success – it meant I was doing, meant that there was tangible evidence of my work, of my worth. Waiting is teaching me to let go of that. To rest, to reflect, to savour a cup of coffee sitting in the sun or an afternoon giggling with my children. Waiting is teaching me to be instead of always feeling a need to do.
It’s still hard, still a struggle, but today is a day I think I did it right, and I wanted to remember that, to cherish it and tuck it away for the next day when waiting is hard.
I’ve had sick kids the last few days. Sick kids means kids at home, means time spent getting water and fixing blankets and cuddling up on the couch. It’s wonderful, but at the back of my mind I’m still aware of the chores and the to do lists and the things I had planned to get done that just don’t seem to happen when there are kids in the house.
I admit I don’t always make the best nurse in these times. I tend to get anxious about what isn’t happening. I feel frustrated and put upon and am constantly going through the lists in my head and trying to figure out how to shuffle things around so it will all get done.
I tried a different approach this time. I cleared my schedule. I sat on the couch with my daughter’s head in my lap. I nurtured her. I played games with my son and we laughed together. I took a breath, I let go of the lists and I experienced life as it was.
I’ve been reading more about slowing down. From blogs by busy moms to a book about worship to the story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet to Jesus himself taking time away from the crowds. Changing my mind from seeing “quiet time” as another thing to add to my list to realizing it means being in the moment, being present where I am and finding the quiet there, the lessons, the whispers of the Spirit, the refreshing of my soul.
It’s a funny thing to think about live moving around me. A few years ago I was sick. Not quite bedridden for months. My husband was amazing and stepped in, taking responsibility for meals and groceries and laundry and bedtime routines for the kids. My biggest responsibility was to keep the kids fed and safe while he was at school every day, and to keep an eye on our finances to make sure everything got covered. I struggled a lot during that time realizing that he could do it without me – a realization that came back in a bad way a couple years ago. I was struggling with crippling depression and for a time I thought my family would do better without me. I trusted he could take care of them, of himself, of everything without the extra burden of dealing with my sadness and lethargy and needyness.
It’s hard to find your place in the world when confronted with the fact that it functions fine without you.
On the other extreme, I tend to have an overblown sense of responsibility. Generally I blame it on my mother, but really I know that’s a cop out. When I’m in charge of something to any degree, I get insecure. I want people to like me, and so if I am in any way able to make someone’s experience better and I don’t, then it’s on me and my fault. This leads to a lot of pressure I place on myself and a lot of guilt. It also makes it nearly impossible to take constructive criticism in the way it’s intended.
Yesterday my husband reminded me the extreme reaction I have is in part because of a position I was in years ago. One of those things I thought I’d moved past but apparently is still lingering in the background. He told me this after I called him home from work because I was crying and couldn’t stop and I knew I was over-reacting but couldn’t make it all make sense. I forget sometimes that there’s other things to consider – experiences and thoughts and habits and wounds and countless other bits and pieces that make me who I am.
So what’s to do then? Being involved and part of things is important. I need to be connected to stay healthy, to exercise my gifts and to serve the people around me. Part of things, but not too big a part, or the weight of it crushes me and I somehow believe it all comes down to me, that i am the most crucial element.
How quickly my pride moves from one extreme to the other.
I’m taking some time now to get some perspective. To step back and observe and see what happens. A reminder that the world still turns, and a chance to see where there’s a spot for me to fit into it. The right spot where I’ll fit and feel comfortable and not be crushed by my own expectations.
This morning I am not at my best. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. Despite my best efforts I didn’t get nearly enough sleep last night. There are things tugging at my thoughts that make me feel anxious and frustrated and confused. There are some conversations and decisions happening in my church that make me wonder where I fit and if I might be wrong about some issues that I feel very strongly on.
These things are hard to deal with. For years I was very hard on “the Church” and wanted no part in it. Finding a church – a group of people who regularly get together to discuss spirituality and share life together – was hard. It took a long time to feel comfortable there and to feel safe. Through a lot of changes I’ve seen a lot of growth and positive things, but right now there’s an issue and it’s just hard.
Community is hard sometimes. I try to teach my kids that. I try to remind them that when you live in a family, when you’re in family space, it means you can’t always have exactly what you want. It means I can’t have a clean, quiet home and it means they can’t drag in every bit of mud and grass from the yard. Church community is the same – we need to be willing to give a little and choose not to express our will for the better of the whole. I know it won’t be the ideal I picture in my head (and I even understand parts of my ideal are probably wrong), but times like this are hard.
Really this is an opportunity for us to grow, as a community. It’s a chance to discuss and share and learn together, and to make decisions that might stretch us and push us a bit. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just hard.
Especially when I have to admit that I might be the one who needs to be stretched.