The Loneliness of the Holidays is No Joke: wait and see what can come from within it...
I have heard too many tragic stories this year. It's Advent season and as I write my annual Advent Series, I am forced to contemplate so much reality that collides with this time of year. Music and tradition, friends and family sit in a parallel space with sorrow and loss, conflict and fear. My personality is such that I carry the pain of others around inside of me. Maybe it is the way of any counselor. All I know it this has been true of me since I was a child.
But Advent is about expectant hope. Holding on to the TRUTH that Christ came to make all things new, to right every wrong, to turn mourning into laughter, to clear the way, part the sea, and renew the sight of the blind. He is at work, even in the middle of the darkness. What I love about Scripture is that it allows for our groaning, yelling, crying out, and shutting down. He is Emmanuel, and He is all about coming into our space.
But, WAIT we must. The announcement of the Messiah was such a big deal precisely because the Jews had been waiting for so long. Finally, the LIGHT HAS COME! Let's be honest here. As a society, we are worse at waiting than we have ever been. Our entire culture is built on the value of speed and efficiency. We don't endure well. Our children don't endure well. So when it comes to waiting for sorrow to move out and give us a respite, loneliness can set in and wrench us. It even scares us. This kind of pain can feel like too much to bear. I wonder if this is why the author of Hebrews says, "Encourage one another daily..." The road is long and we don't feel equipped for the waiting. We need encouragement.
So, I HAD to share this encouragement with you. This is one of my favorite pieces from Henri Nouwen on hidden hope, that hope tucked away inside the waiting process. It is profound, my friends. Years ago when I stumbled upon it, something shifted in me and since then, I reread it a few times a year. Not only does it bolster me, but it also gives me the courage to wait. It is an Advent GIFT I give to you.
"I decided to make a life in the US, and I experienced pain and felt a deep absence of friendship, but then I started to slowly realize that maybe the experience of loneliness and the experience of separation might not be a negative thing. It might, I thought, bring me more in touch with other people's experiences of loneliness.
If I would not run away from it, but feel it through all the way, it might become fruitful. Then suddenly I had this idea that loneliness which is pain, when you do not run away from it but feel it through and stand up in it and look it right in the face, that there is something there that can be a source of hope, in the middle of the pain there is some hidden gift. I, more and more in my life, have discovered that the gifts of life are often hidden in the places that hurt the most. I am saying that you can stand the pain. I think one of the great challenges of life is to dare to stand in your pain, and to trust that there is something beyond that which is safe. What begins to happen is something like the experience that there is safety beyond the pain, that if you enter into it, it's not so frightening as you thought it was, and that underneath your loneliness, there is an experience of being held safe. . . .
I know it for myself so much that if I experience loneliness or anguish, I distract myself. I go do something so that I don't feel it. But it is always a disappointment, and I am more lonely; I am more anguished. Then I discovered that if I just stay with it, and live with it to the fullest. Not just accept it, but taste it, chew on it. I would nearly say to myself 'I am lonely, yes, and let me feel it.' I've discovered that there's much more strength in me than I realized and, in a way, the strength is not coming from me, but it is coming indeed from someone who holds me, who loved me long before I came into life, from someone who will love me long after I have died. It is not an intellectual thing. Jesus for me is the center of it. Jesus for me is the one who helps me discover that God had loved me before I even was born, and will still love me after I die. The love of God is a love that is there before and after any other human being has touched me. The mystery of knowing Jesus is the mystery of knowing God who embraces me in a wider and deeper way, more than any human being can do. It sounds quite theoretical, but I have only discovered this gradually in life through much of my own pain, and through much of my own disappointment, and through much of my own running away to other places."
Advent is not sentimental. Christ coming is not about having a fun holiday. We have a Savior who will not leave us, he will not forsake us, and he will come again to restore all things!
Curious about ROOTed?
ROOTed is one way you can invest in your soul. In January of 2024, I will kick off my 4th launch for what I call, "A Pilgrimage for Women Who Want Spiritual Grit." You can learn more about it HERE. This is one way I am motivated to provide that ongoing encouragement for souls in the long haul.