I find it impossible to write today’s post without first considering the day itself: Christmas. A feast day. A day of celebration. Foundational to my Christian faith and pivotal to the seasons of change that mark our ongoing spiritual growth and renewal, the day is also a day of gratitude. The Advent Season comes to a close and our waiting turns to the appreciation of the many gifts of our life, and the blessings of hope in days better than today.
Hope frames how we see and move into the future, whether that future is our next moment, the moment seven months from now, or the moment seven years from now. The hope we hold liberates us to believe, just as the hope we lack shackles us with fear.
May your day be filled with gratitude and hope.
Advent is a season of anticipation and preparation. The waiting is not passive but an engagement of our active faculty of hope, anticipating something more, something better, something worth celebrating. A few weeks ago, I wrote of patience and preparation as a season, and within it, our need to recognize when we need to let things happen versus trying to make them happen. There are times when we must be patient, allowing things to unfold, however, such a season does not mean we are not preparing for what may unfold.
What about those things that happen for which we are unprepared? A friend recently lost his father. Even when we are intellectually prepared for the inevitable, it still puts us on our heels, leaving us feeling completely unprepared. Within a few hours of sharing his father’s final moments, my friend was making the return trip to attend a very important board meeting. I could hear the knot in his voice. Though the pragmatic details of preparing for his meeting seemed to distract him from the immediacy of his grief, his heart was broken, and the important next steps demanded of him seemed small despite their magnitude in this particular moment.
So often, the biggest moments we face are the ones for which we feel we are unprepared. Life has a way of pushing us to the edge of our own capacities and the knot of such moments seems to fill, and overwhelm, our gut trying to contain it. The butterflies turn into screaming banshees as we look into an abyss which seems to have no end. We know that such a step will engulf us and the unknown on the other side of that abyss freezes our limbs into a primal hesitation. Nothing could have prepared us for this.
Or could it?
Listening to my friend on a morning that must have felt like it was moving him rapidly into that massive abyss, I saw something else, something beyond that frightening black unknown. Amid the chattering details and gyrations of preparation and anticipation for the board meeting, then looking beyond to a funeral and a life which was no longer occupied by his father, I saw the arc of a different narrative. His narrative.
If we are able to step back far enough, and allow ourselves the grace to sit still long enough, we begin to see the bigger picture, the longer arc of our own story. The reality is that my friend was actually prepared for the moment facing him. Not necessarily with spreadsheets, data, strategy, or specific skills – though he had plenty of all of those. The truth of the matter was that his entire life had brought him, and prepared him, for this exact moment.
The small losses of childhood. The little struggles of youth. The growing battles of adolescence and skirmishes of new adulthood. The pushing against resistance of time and place and people along a long road of setbacks into middle age. And, the victories in between the struggles that provided hope enough to push on. All of these made him the man he is; the man able to endure and continue to hope.
The sum total of his experiences has been forming him for a long time. Whether the actions and choices of his own person or the world acting upon him, the arc of his story has been one long preparation for today. And tomorrow.
Ours are seasons of transitions. We are always moving from here to there. We are always presented with the impossible, the improbable, and the overwhelming. We are also given the opportunity to endure, to learn, and to grow through all of it. We are forged by the resistance of life, strengthened into beings capable of facing what comes. Sure, such things will break us from time to time. We will falter, get knocked down, and even make our own poor choices. We will also get back up and try again.
You are more prepared than you think. You are stronger than you realize. Those struggles have not been for nothing. The losses are not meaningless…unless we allow them to be so. We can fold. We can retreat. We can give up. There are many examples. The overwhelm can seem bigger than us and, given enough time, we will all face it repeatedly. But every single moment bringing you to this very place, standing at this very edge, and looking into the darkness at this very moment, has prepared you for it. Every. Single. Moment.
Our season of waiting has shifted. But that is how seasons work: they pass. Winter is upon us. With a bit of patience, spring will soon appear. The sun will rise and the winds will change. And yes, the sun will set as well, and the darkness will come. All along the way, no matter how unprepared we may feel, we will be prepared for it.