I have so much to do right now.
I’m not finished with my Christmas shopping.
The things I have purchased still need to be wrapped. You know, because somehow it is less of a gift if it isn’t covered with paper that will just be torn off and thrown away.
Despite every effort and all my good intentions to finish up planning for the Christmas Eve program early, I find myself covered with glue and glitter, and still needing to finish last minute props, costumes, and tweaking this costume or that part for the script.
I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m achy. And when I go out shopping or running errands, and I look into the faces of so many other people, I don’t see smiling people looking back at me.
I see frantic people. Busy people. Angry people. A quick, five-minute scan of my Facebook Newsfeed today had ten people longing to find “the Christmas spirit,” and desperately trying to bake, shop, sing, or craft their way into something that they could tell was lacking. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it that no matter how hard I try to do a better job of balancing things, no matter how hard I try to reduce how much I expect of myself, no matter how much I try to pare down, I always end up a frazzled mess the week before Christmas?
In a moment of frustration, I posted this snarky tidbit to Twitter:
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we overwhelm ourselves to the point that this season of expectation, joy, and preparation becomes a drudgery? I got this amazing, thought-provoking response from Hannah:
I just had to push back. That’s how we celebrate? The frustration, the over-commitment, the anger, and bitterness? That’s how we celebrate?
Wow. I had never really thought about it that way before. It blew my mind. Suddenly, I couldn’t help but think about the last few weeks of my first pregnancy.
My husband and I were both seniors in seminary when we found out our first child was on the way. We were ecstatic, nervous, scared, overjoyed, and so many other things all at the same time. I had no morning sickness, and a fairly textbook pregnancy. Every check up went smoothly. I walked across the stage to receive my Masters of Divinity when I was 36 weeks 4 days pregnant…yes, I was counting the days. And then, once I graduated, I had very little to occupy my time. We were in the search process with a church in Iowa, and eventually we reached a point where we knew God was calling us there, but we could not officially accept the call until the baby was born and we could travel out for a final, in-person interview.
I felt really great all the way up until my due date. I had tons of energy. I rarely had trouble sleeping. It all seemed too good to be true. And then the due date came and went. I started feeling achy. People were calling me or emailing me every single day to ask if I was still pregnant. Members of the search committee began calling with eagerness to see if baby had come. They were so excited for us to come and visit that every day I was still pregnant was one more day all of us had to wait. I started feeling frustrated, snippy, gigantic, moody, sleepless, angry, and probably a lot of other really negative adjectives. I was still overjoyed, excited, filled with anticipation, but I reached a point where I felt completely done with the waiting, the preparation, the uncertainty.
To complicate things, I was never able to give in to my “nesting” impulses. I couldn’t set up a nursery for the coming baby because we would be moving just weeks after he was born. I couldn’t organize drawers or paint walls. I just had to wait. It’s a really good thing Pinterest wasn’t around at that point in time because looking at all the cute nursery designs and themes would have really depressed me. I wanted to get ready, and I couldn’t.
Then I started thinking about Mary and her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. When she was nearing the end of her pregnancy, she and Joseph had to travel for the census. I imagine the last thing she wanted to do was leave her home. Right when she probably most wanted to prepare, get ready, make a space for the baby in her home and life, she had to embark on a difficult journey. We don’t know how far into her pregnancy Mary was when she began the trek to Bethlehem, but we know that while she was there, it was time for her to deliver her baby. Mary and Joseph searched for a place to stay, and there was no room. Eventually they ended up in a stable with a feed trough instead of a bed for the baby.
As I thought about all of this, I started to wonder if maybe our frustration, our weariness, our impatience, and frustration is all part of the longing, yearning, and expectation. I’m not saying that it is good, or that we should feel this way, but we do, and it is part of Advent. It’s all about giving up our perceived control over when and how things happen. I’m a perfectionist and a control freak, and the most terrifying thing for me about pregnancy was the complete lack of control I had over any of it. I had no way to guarantee things would turn out well. I could not control when the baby would be born (believe me…I tried every old wives’ tale once I was very overdue, and none of them worked). Pregnancy wasn’t something I actively participated in. It was something that was happening to me.
Of course there were things I did. I tried to eat well. I took notice of things that made me sick. I read books and tried to plan and prepare. But, at the end of the day, it wasn’t on me to make it happen. And it was wonderful, miraculous, and the most frustrating and terrifying thing to know that I was not in control.
So maybe, just maybe, the frustration, impatience, weariness, and aching of this season are part of the waiting and expectation. Not that they are good parts of it, by any means, but they are part of this time of preparation. We wait with anticipation because we know what is coming is better than anything we could ask or imagine. We wait with frustration because we know that things right now are not as they should be, and waiting sometimes means suffering and pain. We wait with joy because we know that the Word was indeed made flesh for us and for our salvation so many years ago. We wait with yearning and groaning because we know that a day will come when Jesus returns again to make all things new.
Maybe we are aching because we know our present reality is nothing compared to what is coming.
So, what do you think?