Presence & Longing (Advent 2017)

 

All

God’s

gifts

are

right in front of you

as

you

wait

expectantly

for our Master Jesus

to

arrive

on the scene.

(1 Cor. 1:7)

 

 

Thanksgiving was a really hard day for me this year. People always say that the holidays can be hard, but I’d never felt it as acutely as I did this year. To be honest, I’m not sure I can say exactly what triggered the pain I felt that day. I woke up with a vague sense of dread and had a hard time getting out of bed. I tried praying, journaling, meditating. I knew I needed to get up and help in the kitchen, but I still didn’t feel ready for the day.

I felt sad. Really sad. And that was about as far as my self-awareness would take me. I would think, I feel sad. And then the shame would come flooding in – What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? There’s no reason I should feel this way. I’m barely functional. This is messed up.  I “knew” all the right answers in that moment. I knew that connection is an antidote for shame, and that if I could reach out to someone and speak out what I was feeling, I would probably feel better. But I felt utterly unable to get outside of myself. I was trapped in my head with my shame voice, which is about the worst company you can have. I kept thinking, Even if I could reach out, what would I say? There’s nothing to say because I don’t know why I’m feeling this way. This is pathetic. I’m pathetic. It’s literally my job to help people navigate situations like this, and here I am – completely stuck, utterly useless. And on and on. The shame voice is merciless.

The next morning, I went for a run. The weather was uncharacteristically pleasant, and the sun shone all around me. The world felt like a different place than it had the day before – full of hope and joy and light. And somehow, the light in that moment spread backwards into the previous day and I began to see how God had been present with me in the midst of my pain.

Up ahead on the road, I saw a boy sitting on the curb alone, head in his hands. Normally I would have kept running, but the memory of my sadness was so near that I couldn’t ignore him. I stopped and asked him if he was ok, and in this too I felt God’s grace extending backwards and forwards.

I share all of this because, in those two days, I experienced a fundamental tension of the Christian life – the tension between longing and presence. Longing is the companion of pain. When we suffer, we long for healing. We long for hope, connection, understanding, joy. We long for things to be different than they are. And there is something right and good in this longing. It’s what the season of Advent is all about – recognizing the brokenness of the world and longing for God to draw near and make things new.

But it’s also true that we can get lost in the longing, which is why we must hold it in tension with the fact that God is present with us right now. In this moment. With each breath. And if God is present in this moment, then we can be too. It’s God’s presence with us that gives us the courage and companionship we need to face our present pain. The Apostle Paul captures the tension between presence and longing this way: “All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene…” (1 Cor. 1:7). In this verse, Paul is talking about longing for the Second Coming of Christ, but I think it also speaks to our longing for God’s light to shine in the darkness right now. We long for God’s presence, and yet we know that God is already present. This is the mystery of our faith.

I don’t mean to oversimplify suffering or to suggest that we can see purpose in every experience of pain. But I have found it to be true over the course of my life that the moments of cloudy thinking and winter-bleak despair, when things feel darkest – these are not the fullness of reality. While we are in that haze, it feels like it goes on forever. But it doesn’t. The light will come. Maybe not today, or tomorrow. Maybe not for hundreds of days. But it will come. So whether you are currently experiencing “all God’s gifts” or you are “waiting expectantly” for God’s light to break through, take heart this Advent season. God is coming. God is here.

_____________________________

For Reflection:

  1. What are you longing for this Advent season?
  2. Do you ever find yourself wanting to escape from the present moment? Describe what this feels like.
  3. “God is present with us right now. In this moment. With each breath. And if God is present in this moment, then we can be too.” What does this statement stir up in you? How does it resonate (or not) with your experience?