A bit about my current state. I've written that since my last child was born almost a year and a half ago, I've never really gotten back into a rhythm I feel comfortable with in life. I've had to learn to let go of my own concepts of what I can do and what it means to be a good housewife and mother, and have a more realistic expectation of what needs to be done on a daily basis, and what can wait. All of last year really was about me letting go of the burden I put on myself to continue in the same way as I did prior to his birth, because I am not the same person and we are not the same family. We have evolved and changed, and the Lord has blessed it and stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, and for that I am so grateful.
But all that stretching has not come without its challenges. It has been so hard for me to let go, and just when I think I've determine an acceptable amount of things to surrender the Lord seems to say, "yes that's good, but I still want more." At the beginning of this school year, as I looked at our schedule and the needs of each of my children and evaluated it against the commitments we had been keeping up (and compared it to how much time my husband and I had to give to getting them back and forth to the things they do), I made the decision to let go of some things we had been longtime members of, because something just had to give somewhere. That was prudent, I thought. Then I looked at what was left over, wrapped my head around how it would work and secured help from my Mom and my husband to shuttle the kids, and I thought, "this is going to be so much better."
Except it isn't. Because life with so many people (who have so many different needs) all under one roof really is never simple. The first few weeks of school we kept having things pop up - beginning of the year outings, appointments, a night shift my husband had to work, something was always coming up to keep my week from being a normal week that I had set out. Every week it seemed I was running more, not less than last year, even though we had dropped some of our previous commitments. I kept thinking, "I can't wait until things slow down and we can finally have a normal week." After two months and only one or two such weeks however, I slowly had to concede that "normal" for us actually is all the extra, unexpected things. And this continues to be such a scary thought to me because, quite honestly, it feels at times like it's going to break me. My head is constantly spinning and trying to keep up with making sure school is done, and making sure children are where they need to be when they need to be there. I feel like I'm drowning in schedules, like I'm going through life constantly thinking of the next place we need to be.
Some friends and I got together to talk about Advent and to pray together for what we wanted (or thought we needed) from the Lord in this season. And for me, the biggest thing I feel like I need is just the ability to cope. We had a school of community meeting recently where someone talked about living in God's presence, and how it can give you gratitude for the challenges of your life because you recognize those are the things that put you in front of Christ, and this seemed so far from what my experience is. I knew (I have long known) that my gaze is not on Christ, but on the mountain of things I need to do that just seems to keep growing, casting an ever greater shadow over me and making me feel so small and incapable in front of it. I want to live in a way that I can invite Christ into the deepest parts of myself, so that I can see Him in these moments of great fear and insecurity. This is what I want from this season - to shift my gaze back to the One who puts my life in perspective.
We took turns sharing our desire for the coming weeks, and then we read an Advent reflection from Henri Nouwen. In it he spoke of patience, and at first the quote irritated me. He says,
"The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means 'to suffer.' Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming."
I always pay extra attention when I hear the word "patience", because it is my biggest shortcoming in life. I had not specifically asked for patience, yet I knew how intrinsic it was to my ability to cope in my daily life. But as I listened to Henri's words describing that patience, I became almost angry at him. He talked of patience as suffering and I could relate, then went on to talk about the suffering of waiting for a baby to be born. I thought, that's not the same thing at all! A baby is a happy thing, and even the waiting that takes place, while it is a suffering of sorts, is a happy kind of suffering. It is riddled with joy and expectant hope, and to me not at all the same sort of suffering I've been experiencing in my daily life. How could this be applicable to me?
As I continued to ponder his words long after I left the company of my friends, their true depth became clear to me. It's true that, like someone awaiting the arrival of the dearest one for whom they long, I am suffering. But the difference is that I have not been expecting anything. And when I don't expect, I don't hope. The lack of expectation reduces my life to the negative feelings I have, or the weight of things I can't achieve. Without the expectation that Christ IS here, that He IS coming to be my salvation, all that suffering seems insurmountable because it has been taken out of its proper perspective and given the spotlight in a story without hope for peace. It's like experiencing all the unpleasant side-effects of pregnancy without thinking about the coming miracle growing inside you - without that focus, there is only misery. Christ is the One who changes my suffering - He is the one I need to expect.
And so my prayer this Advent is that as we navigate the circumstances of life, the challenges we all face, the things that bring us to our knees, that all of that would be seen through the lens of expecting One who will bring great joy, comfort and peace. In a way we are all like the Virgin making the journey to Bethlehem. Christ is just as present to us as He was growing inside of her, but she chose to focus on Him. I pray that as these weeks continue, we will all remember Whom we are expecting. And as the storms rage around us, may we turn inward to the One whose coming is near, and Who alone satisfies our deepest longings. May we endure our sufferings in patience, trusting in His goodness, His mercy, His never ending love. He is with us, always, and acknowledging His presence puts our life in right order. Let us never forget Him.