For we who follow Christ, the season of Advent is about looking squarely into the thick of our lives and our world, paying attention, and seeing what’s really there. Like good artists, we need to pay attention to the details, because its in the details that we see the distance between what’s actually there, and what we know, deep in our hearts, could be there if all was well. In our image saturated world, we don’t pay enough attention. Our eye catches an image of this or that, but because it feels like we’re in a video game, we move on before the meaning of any particular image has the chance to sink in and actually affect us. It works something like this:
1. you catch a report on the news about dangers that there’ll be corruption in the Egyptian election, but before you can ponder this….
2. a traffic report tells us that things are jammed up heading into downtown, especially down by the waterfront. Immediately you’re thinking about how the new tunnel project will affect your commute, when….
3. your phone rings, and you see it’s a text from your boss, telling you that the project deadline has been moved up, and can you plan on staying late tonight…
4. while you’re thinking about how to break the news about late work tonight to your spouse, you completely miss the report on the radio about the financial crisis in Europe and the dangers of what will happen if those 17 countries can’t solve their problems. Instead you’ve move on towards the problems in your marriage because of the ‘late working’ news you need to break, and are thinking about how the trust has eroded, wondering if you should take a class together, or read a book or something, when….
5. you hear the weather report, that there will be fresh snow in the mountains this Friday, that the skiing will be good. Your mind goes there, leaving the problems of the marriage and work and world behind, and as the next report from Somalia begins to unfold, you change the channel, looking for something, anything, that will shift your gaze away from the gaps in our world, in your world.
That might be too bad, because these gaps are priceless. They reveal the distance between the world that is, and that world for which we’re created. I only call them gaps, in fact, because we know, deep within ourselves, that we’re made for something more.
We’re made for intimacy, but we often settle for far less – in our marriages, with our children, with our parents.
We’re made for generosity, but we find ourselves, too often, closed fisted and greedy, with our time and money.
We’re made to be people of justice, yet we find ourselves, at time, party to the oppression that keeps billions locked in poverty and want.
We see our wars, our addictions, our pain, our shame, our failure – but we only see it if we’re really looking, really paying attention. This seeing creates longings for things to be other than they are. I call it “holy discontent”, and it’s actually a great gift because until I’m walking in darkness I’ll not long for the light. Until I stare the suffering and pain of this broken world right in the face, paying attention to every detail, I’ll continue to wander aimlessly through some “Disneyland” of my own making, where the rides are the next good concert, or restaurant, or party. Stay busy enough, and I’ll never need to face the longings of my own heart for simplicity, peace, joy, and a better world. I’ll lower the bar, defining the good life as purchasable, either on the ski slopes, or at the mall, knowing all the while that we’ve tortured the word good, sucking the life out of it and making it fit our smaller ambitions.
There’s a better way, and it has to do with leaning into our longings, rather than avoiding them. In my own life, this advent season has me terribly aware of my own tendencies towards anxiety. In times past, it seems that I’ve been able to avoid this sad realization for one reason or another, but this advent season, I’ve felt (for personal reasons) as if I’m carrying a gigantic load. At times it’s affected my sleep, even my appetite! There are things going on (not in the church that I pastor, or my marriage, but elsewhere in my life) that I simply can’t control, and my tendencies to worry come bubbling to surface.
And so I long for peace…I pray for it; I practice appropriating it in my situation by applying these principles; I ask for prayer. This is how I find myself leaning into my longings and staring into the gap. “Come Lord Jesus! Fill my heart with the gift of your peace.” I’m longing, praying, waiting, receiving. This is advent.
To lean into your longings, you’re going to need to pay attention to them. That will be more painful than continuing to try and live in Disneyland – I’m just warning you. In the end, though, God will meet you right in the midst of your longings. Don’t numb them with drugs and entertainment. Don’t kill them with over-activity, and tinny Christian ‘right answers’. Lean into them – and cry out for the coming of Messiah in your situation, in our global situation. This, not shopping, is my advent of choice.