As we approach the end of 2020, finding adequate language to describe the last several months proves challenging. Collectively and individually, we have certainly navigated some strange and difficult territory in our world. And as we approach Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and the new year, there’s little doubt that the next two months may be quite different for many of us as well. Even the typical hope of a fresh start in January feels somewhat elusive when there is no guaranteed end to the unusual times in which we find ourselves. It feels rather disorienting to enter a season of celebration in the midst of so much pain, confusion and unknown.
November has typically felt like a transitional month to me; a short respite between a bursting- at-the-seams October and a sprint from Thanksgiving through Advent. In years past, I have found myself feeling somewhat stuck and a little hopeless as I spent my November days planning for Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. Even in my attempts to plan a meaningful and intentional holiday season, it felt difficult to consider much beyond the treadmill of endless details, the needs and desires of others, and seemingly non-negotiable responsibilities and traditions. This November, though, I have noticed within myself a small but significant sigh of relief at the realization that the holiday calendar is a little less packed than in past years – mostly because many of the usual events have been necessarily removed from the table. Even as I’m sad and disappointed that some of our favorite traditions or gatherings will look different or not happen at all this year, I’ve also noticed my gladness at the possibility of more room to simply breathe.
This realization has caused me to wonder if there might be an opportunity, a hidden gift in the midst of a year that mostly feels like a terrible mess. Might there be room to reflect on what I most need…and even want, this holiday season? In the same way that the angle of light changes from season to season, allowing us a different perspective on our everyday surroundings, perhaps the realities of 2020 might provide a different view of our November and December days? What might God be inviting me to at this year’s end?
I’m living with some questions that are helping me pause, reflect and consider these days a little differently. And in doing so, I’m finding that there may be more benefit to prayerfully savoring the questions with God than hurrying to land on answers.
What does my soul need? Rest…beauty….peace…wisdom…challenge? Asking the question leads me out of the frantic focus on externals to quieter inward realities. God has made me with a soul that has needs. There is a freeing humility in acknowledging our humanness, our limits, our dependence. My needs are not a problem to God. They are an invitation to experience Him more fully. Am I able to name and acknowledge the needs of my soul? What can I learn from naming those needs, or even from the struggle to do so?
Where can I allow for some space? I’m tempted to quickly replace all of the events and traditions that aren’t happening this year. And there is an appropriateness to some adapting and adjusting. There is an excitement to the holiday hustle and bustle that really is fun and worth my attention and engagement. But too much of a good thing often deadens the goodness of it. I’m finding it equally helpful this year to consider leaving some blanks, some empty days, some room for just being and less doing. How might God meet me in expected and unexpected ways as I wait for Him in the days of Advent? How might He surprise me with His goodness and grace? How might He transform me in the quieter moments of letting time pass without crossing another item off my to-do list? What emotions rise up in me as I consider “less” in a season of “more”?
What helps me remember and experience “Immanuel” – God with us? The miracle of the Incarnation is a profound truth, foretold by the prophet Isaiah and beautifully described and explained in the gospels.The knowledge of the incarnation is good; but the experience of it is the heart of the matter. Rather than condemning myself for how easily I become dulled and forgetful of the miracle, perhaps I can press into what helps me remember and experience it? What disciplines, traditions and experiences with God and people draw me to remember that God is truly with me, and that Christ in me is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)? How can I create space in my everyday life for greater awareness of these truths?
How can I approach the holiday season with a sense of childlike wonder? True wonder can’t be conjured up or manufactured; it simply bubbles up out of a childlike posture; the very disposition that Jesus told us was essential for entering the kingdom of God. Featured on this post is one of my favorite photos, a few beautiful Russian children enjoying the first snow of the season. I found it on a Christmas card several years ago and was captivated by the sense of awe on the children’s faces. I put this card on display in our home every December to help me remember what it feels like to live with a sense of child-like wonder. What could help you remember and experience wonder and awe this holiday season? What could it look like for you to relinquish some adult-ness for the purpose of experiencing and enjoying God as a dearly loved child?
The risk, of course, in asking any of these questions is that of disappointment – with the answers that we find or don’t, with ourselves, or perhaps, more terrifyingly, with God Himself. But the crux of what we celebrate in this upcoming season is the reality that God was and is willing to enter into our mess. He is by no means surprised or consternated by our questions, needs or struggles, nor is He trying to hurry us along in arriving at answers. He is delighted to be with us right where we are. May we have the courage to boldly consider what we need this holiday season, to trust our gracious God in our asking, and to experience Immanuel, God with us, in the fading days of 2020.