Friday, December 3, 2010

It's Advent...and I have no hope!

Did that title catch you off guard?  Well, it should.  It is unsettling to read, and hear, those words; even moreso when such words come from one's own lips. Fortunately, they were said to a group of people whom I trust and love, and frankly people I knew could handle hearing it.  Seminary teaches you to hear things that challenge, unsettle and disorient without impulsive reactions; seminary teaches you to listen.  A favorite professor often said to simply "Show up and pay attention!".  Like the Psalms, seminary has been a cyclical experience of disorientation and reorientation for me.  And this day, I found myself lost in a dark forest and I needed someone to show me the way out.  I was disoriented and I felt hopeless.  Thus my exclamation, "It's Advent, and I have no HOPE!"  This wonderful group real people received it with laughter; they laughed because they know me well. I am a highly intense person with highly intense emotions, opinions, ideas, concepts, etc.  They know me; so they laughed not at me, but with me.  You see, I had spent much of the morning in an emotional storm, full of wet tears (not the sobbing kind of tears) but pouring tears. You know the difference, right?  There times to sob, and then there are times when tears flow like water.  Honestly, the pain blindsided me; something inside of me was breaking. There was a lesson to be had in the pain, in the tears, so when my friends laughed at my exclamation I laughed too.  I have often said during this seminary journey, with it's ups and downs, valleys, joys and glorious mountaintop moments (though those seem fewer anymore) these words: "I laugh because otherwise I would cry".  Yesterday, I cried. Then last night, I felt the prickling of pride in me became embarrassed at my tears, as if crying was a sign of weakness.  I had to fight that feeling, realizing that crying is a part of the human experience.  Ecclesiastes describes the states of being in relation to time: a time to cry, a time to laugh, and even a time to die.  Our humanity is something that we often do not want the world to see; our humanity is broken and fragile and ... weak.  Our culture tells that strength is defined in confidence, self-assurance and powerful demonstrations. Yet Paul tells us in Corinthians that power is defined in the symbol of the Cross--where a innocent man was killed, his clothes bartered over, and his body brutalized.  Something in us rebels against such a thought!  The Corinthians did, and so do we.  Something in me broke yesterday when I exclaimed, "It's Advent, and I have no hope!"  It was not the circumstance that brought the pain; it was something much deeper, much more profound.  Honestly, I am still trying to wrap my feeble brain around the nature of that "something", but I am looking to see the lesson.  I am listening rather than talking.  I am waiting rather than worrying. Another favorite professor said something along these lines, "I believe that we are created human and that should fully experience that humanity".  He was right.  Yesterday, I cried...a lot. Yesterday, I got broken, and I'm still breaking.  Today, I read words from Oswald Chambers, "Utmost" devotion, dated yesterday, Dec 2:

"It is a snare to imagine that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do; God's purpose is to make us one with Himself. The emphasis of holiness movements is apt to be that God is producing specimens of holiness to put in His museum. If you go off on this idea of personal holiness, the dead-set of your life will not be for God, but for what you call the manifestation of God in your life. "It can never be God's will that I should be sick." If it was God's will to bruise His own Son, why should He not bruise you? The thing that tells for God is not your relevant consistency to an idea of what a saint should be, but your real vital relation to Jesus Christ, and your abandonment to Him whether you are well or ill.
Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection. Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God which shows itself amid the irrelevancies of human life. When you obey the call of Jesus Christ, the first thing that strikes you is the irrelevancy of the things you have to do, and the next thing that strikes you is the fact that other people seem to be living perfectly consistent lives. Such lives are apt to leave you with the idea that God is unnecessary, by human effort and devotion we can reach the standard God wants. In a fallen world this can never be done. I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God in other lives, not admiration for myself. Thoughts about myself hinder my usefulness to God. God is not after perfecting me to be a specimen in His show-room; He is getting me to the place where He can use me. Let Him do what He likes" 

I was suddenly aware that God was re-teaching me something that I thought I "knew".   It is in our weakness that we are strong. I forgot that the incarnation of God was through a frail, weak, helpless baby, who needed his parents to care for him, to raise him.  Jesus cried. Jesus got hurt. Jesus felt rejection. Jesus felt betrayal.  Jesus knows where I am, and He knows where you are today.  He sometimes needs to break us down completely so that we may live more fully.  My exclamation yesterday, "It's Advent, and I have no hope!" was part of my breaking, but only so that I could some to say, "It's Advent, and there is always hope."

Peace friends.