When Advent is Painful and Messy

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


In so many ways, the end of this year has been downhill...the week after Thanksgiving until now (just three days before Christmas) has felt like sucker punch after sucker punch. Eight papers due over the span of a week, running on little sleep night after night, getting horribly sick right before and all during finals, dealing with all sorts of emotional junk, trying to find closure and write about the messiness of betrayal and forgiveness in a 12-page paper. Finding out that my little 10 year old baby brother has a tumor in his brain (the doctors think it might be benign but we won't know for sure until his next appointment in Jan). Leaving this semester feeling exhausted, alone, and emotionally empty. Driving six hours by myself. Arriving home to promptly turn around and drive my brother to Texas to take an in-house ACT at A&M. Arriving home from that to drive to Houston for a cousin's tournament and then straight on to Dallas because our grandfather fell and is currently in the hospital due to brain damage. Learning on the road that an old family friend lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 53, leaving behind grieving children and husband - her youngest is only 13. 

In so many ways, I feel as though I have nothing left. I've never felt so defeated and bone-weary and empty. 

This Advent has been one of darkness and tears and hardship. I love this liturgical season and always hope each year that my spirit will quiet and be hushed, that I will drink in the stillness and hopeful silence. 

That wasn't what happened this year. Instead, I felt smacked again and again. Smacked with God's goodness in the most painful way. Drained emotionally, drained mentally from writing so many words and  memorizing so many prices of information, utterly drained physically and so aware of my weak body and human fragility. I drove home tearful and yearning for more than anything to be home and safe where I could finally rest. And then life happened. Hospital visits and road trips and funerals. 

There's been much darkness and difficulty. Hard days, silent moments because sometimes there is nothing you can do. This Advent has been one of darkness and weariness and sorrow. 

And somehow, it feels fitting. As if I finally understand Advent. That it isn't a season of weeks to check off a preparation list for Christmas...that it isn't a series of Sundays to make us feel good and holy. Advent is about the mess. The cold. The aching sensation that comes during what is renowned as the "happiest" time of the year. 

I disagree. Christmas, for so many, has been and always might be the hardest time of the year. 

And in each moment of despair and quiet, when my soul wants to whisper no, not this too, I remember that winter is a time of darkness and cold. Winter is bitter, as is life, but it is also when we draw near to the flames. When nothing else is bearable, when the world is too much, when our load is too heavy, when even the light of our room or house is too bright, we retreat into the darkness and light a candle. 

The steadiness of the flickering flame is sometimes all we can bear...sometimes, our eyes are too wet and heavy, our hearts too full and hurting, to stand anything other than candlelight. 

And in the darkness, the flame burns. Calm and quiet. Unwavering. Gentle and steady. It does not eradicate the darkness, but softens it. Grants a peace somehow. Adds depth and warmth in a hollow of hope amidst the shadows. 

Haley of The Tiny Twig asked on Instagram what we're praying for (for ourselves) as the year draws to a close. I'm praying for a renewed spirit and a fresh start. Advent was dark and messy and overwhelming, and I find myself pausing each day, filled with gratitude for the coming of a Child. For a fresh start. A clean slate. For the hope of a new year and the promise of healing. 

In the midst of mess and pain, there can be joy, and there has been. One of my very best friends has been excepted to her dream school for a divinity program, and I've waited and hoped and prayed with her for this moment. One of my favorite bloggers and a lady near my heart (even though we've never met in real life) just revealed she and her adorable husband are expecting. It feels like Christmas to see people, that I root for and cheer on and care for, have their dreams come true. I told my friend that it feels like those are my Christmas presents this year...seeing their joy, the goodness that has been granted them. 

The flame in the darkness. The promise in the waiting. The hope amidst the despair. The Christmas rising through Advent. 

This isn't a "woe is me" post in the hopes of garnering pity. There are so many blessings and forms of joy in my life...but this IS a post for any of who are struggling too. Who feel weary and overwhelmed. Who haven't felt the holiday spirit yet. For the broken-hearted, the tired, the lonely, the empty. 

This is for those who have had an Advent full of pain and mess. 

Christmas is coming. The hope of a Child and of healing is drawing near. May this week be one of peace and stillness, even amidst the pain and mess.