As a child, Advent meant wreaths and lighting candles and saying things about that lighting that I didn’t quite understand. I saw it mostly as a ritual, a thing we did, because we did. For me, there was little connection between the lighting of the candles and the Light of the World.
As an adult, I struggled to figure out how the Advent of my childhood fit into the Christmas season. Honestly, those candles seemed like a one-off. I learned that not everyone, even those who were Christians, had a pretty wreath and fancy candles on their dining room tables each year. Advent was, at best, a mystery. A mystery that was meant to stay that way, unsolvable by mere unordained humans.
A few years ago, I learned why Advent always felt mysterious, unsolvable, and disconnected for me.
Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” As a person born in this time and place, I live between two Advents. So, the season of Advent is both a time of remembrance and a time of great anticipation. Remembrance of Christ’s birth and anticipation of Him coming again.
And if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that living in a space of both simultaneously remembering and anticipating is tough. It is hard to sit in the tension of looking back and looking forward. It is in this tension that pain and hope collide.
This space of living between two Advents is why this season always felt hard and disconnected, to me. It is nearly impossible for me to hold space for conflicting feelings, for both pain and hope, for both remembrance and anticipation. I want the hope, the anticipation, the joy that this season promises, but I don’t want the pain, the remembrance, the sorrow that this season also ushers in.
It all feels like too much. How does one sit in both? How can I possibly light candles that promise the Light of the World will brighten all the dark corners, when I’m also remembering how those corners darkened in the first place?
In 2018, my consistent prayer was that my life reflect the following verse:
“If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight is shining on you.” ~Luke 11:36
I wanted to be unburdened, light. Free from the darkness that kept me shackled to past hurts. I wanted my life to reflect that the Light got in.
In a lot of ways it did. My life began to feel lighter and brighter than it had in years.
So, as 2018 drew to a close, I searched for new verse. Something I could pray over my life for 2019. With my soul a little lighter, I really wanted my life to outwardly reflect the growth I felt like only I could see. I wanted the light to start to radiate out, most especially in my marriage and with my boys. These are the relationships where I felt all of my work and lightness fell short. I was ready for the relationships I held most dear to see the results of the Light in my life.
I knew it was a big ask. Though my dark corners had been swept out and brightened, they were quick to darken at any sign of past troubles. I believed that what I needed was a verse on growth.
I didn’t find a verse on growth. I found a verse on tenderness.
“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their hearts of stone and give them tender hearts instead, so they will obey my laws and regulations.” ~ Ezekiel 11:19
Having that verse reveal itself as THE verse of the year was not what I wanted. What I really wanted was for God to change THEM so that WE could have a good relationship and THEY could see all the growth in ME. I didn’t want God to give me a tender heart. I already cry at USAA commercials, how many more tears did He want from me?
Turns out, He wanted a lot. He wanted more than I ever thought I had to shed.
He’s been chipping away at my heart of stone and giving me a tender heart. One that is receptive to shitty news. One that has an extra ounce of patience for my boys. One that is open to the possibility that it all has to come crashing down, before true rebuilding can begin.
And I don’t want it. I want the lightness of 2018. I want the dark corners to stay lit, permanently. End of story.
But I’m being invited into a personal season of Advent. One that promises something is coming. One that promises hope is on the horizon. And, in order to see what is coming I must remember what was, and grieve it. Things are not as they once were. They will never be that way again.
What I desperately want the answer to is: Is the anticipation of what will be, worth the pain of looking back?
Only time will tell.
But if the candles and wreaths of my childhood were meant to tell the story of remembering Jesus’s birth and anticipating His return, then each Sunday this Advent season I can light a candle to remember that my dark corners have been brightened, that my heart is a little more tender, and that anticipation, hopefulness, is worth the wait. This is the promise of the Advent season.