After the zen of my tree leaning decorating time with family, I headed to church on Sunday morning with an unusual sense of obligation. After all, I had put it out there that I was feeling un-Christmas-like and I knew my community would not ignore that. That’s what I get for being honest. Oh well…off I go.
I sat down and the music started. Christmas music.
I started to feel the lump in my throat grow, but I pushed it down. I just didn’t want to cry.
As we were singing, something settled over me. As best I can recollect, this was it: “This pain is ok. How you feel is ok. Your past, these feelings, your failures…they make you who you are. I have turned that pain into your compassion, your empathy, your ability to feel so much. That is My gift to you. Without that pain, you wouldn’t be you. When you understand someone, that is the gift that comes from your pain. I have made you this way and it is all ok.”
And it WAS ok. I didn’t feel a huge weight lifted. I didn’t hear angels singing, and I didn’t start feeling all “fa-la-la”. But I was ok. And in that moment, that was enough.
But God wasn’t going to leave anything to chance on this Sunday morning.
When all the announcements and songs were finished, Pastor Steve got up to teach. I was stunned by the first part of his message so I am not sure I will get this all right even though I was frantically trying to scribble it all down. I’m not sure I can do it justice…but this is message (gift) I received.
On the 3rd Sunday of advent, we light the Joy candle. JOY comes from the base Greek word, “Charis” which means grace. Joy does NOT mean happiness. Instead, joy is the feeling that comes from knowing that we are in the midst of God’s grace. Advent is the time of preparation. All the circumstances of my life, even the dark places (no…ESPECIALLY the dark places), all the joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies have all brought me to this place, to be ready for a time such as now, to THIS time of Joy and preparation.
The state of living in the middle of God’s grace, being home there, no matter what it looks like, THAT is joy. Joy enables us to wait for what is to come, even if we don’t know what that is….and yes, to be ok with that. In order to be ok with what is to come, we also have to be ok with what has gone before, all that has led us here. Joy.
When we are looking for something we “expect”, like, I don’t know…specific Christmas-y feelings, we miss the moment for which we have been brought, the reason we are here. <Note: These were not Steve’s exact words, but they reflect the combination of what I believe he said and how they translated for me.>
WHAT???? How did my pastor know all that stuff that had come into my head and heart before he even got up to speak??
Steve continued talking and I continued scribbling. He said that the place God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. The intersection of hope and fear (and dare I say pain and happiness) is where we find what we are made for.
Now sometimes I know I can be dense. And there have been times in my life (more than I like to think about) that God had to use a 2×4 to get my attention. But on this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in advent, He just used Saturday tree decorating, some quiet thoughts and the compassionate words of my pastor to help me see without any doubt what He has been trying to tell me.
It is ok. I don’t have to live up to any expected ideal of what Christmas is supposed to look like or feel like. Reconnecting with my past hurts is my way to build heart connections to other people’s pain, so that I can be a more empathetic mom, a more compassionate friend, a more contented wife. The expectations I have each holiday season have gotten in the way of seeing the grace and the beauty of the gifts my pain has brought. The words that settled over me at the beginning of the service, combined with the words that were given to my pastor left no room for doubt.
I might still feel sad and lonely. Expectations might still threaten to steal my peace and trick me into believing that I am not enough. Those things are ok, as long as I remember that those things are what brought me here, and this place, this time, this me is exactly where I am supposed to be, bah-humbug and all.
P.S. If you are interested in hearing the entire audio of the Sunday message from Pastor Steve North, it can be found here.