I’ve never really understood Advent. They say its about waiting and longing. Waiting for Jesus now just like they did in the days before he was born. It’s about waiting for the second coming. My oldest brother loves Advent, but I’ve never quite got it. I have a dark history with eschatology, the second coming, and end times theology. I have a hard time with all of the end of the world talk because I was always told that I needed to look forward to Jesus’ return but I was always too afraid of what came with it. Now my theology has changed and gotten rather jumbled; I’m not so sure about anything anymore. I think I know what I don’t believe, but I’m not so sure of what I do believe is true. It all makes Advent a difficult season for me because I just don’t understand.
But every November, I seem to get my heart broken. It happens almost every year. Something happens in November or December that hurts me. Every year around this time I find myself grieving. Today, on the first day of Advent, I’m realizing how ironic that is. Every year around Advent, I find myself waiting. I’m waiting for the pain to go away. Waiting for the world to get better. Waiting for this season to pass. Waiting to be okay. Waiting for my situation to ease. Waiting for good things. Waiting for the news to stop being so dreary. I’ve just been waiting.
I guess it just never hit me that I was in the right season for that. Advent is all about waiting. I guess I always just assumed it was about joyfully waiting the way kids wait for Christmas; with glee and excitement. I never thought about the waiting we do as adults, like waiting at the DMV. The kind of waiting that is painful and exhausting and not at all joyful. I never considered the validity of both kinds of waiting. I never thought Advent could be about the painful wait. Leaning into the discomfort. Sitting in it. Longing. Feeling the hurt and the pain. Desiring. Feeling. Not rushing the time, but still looking forward.
I’ve never been good at waiting, but who is? I’m impatient. I want what I want and I want it immediately. If my bus is longer than ten minutes, I walk. If the line for Portillo’s is too long, I just don’t eat. I don’t like waiting because I feel helpless. I feel the need to be constantly doing something productive. A part of that is my personality and another part of it is the culture I grew up in. We feel the need to constantly be doing and going and being productive. We rarely give ourselves rest. We feel like if there is something we can be doing for ourselves, we should do it. We rarely let time have its natural way. But time is everything. I find myself learning that more and more. It’s difficult. I hate it.
I’m in a season of waiting right now. I’m waiting for something I’m not sure will ever come. I’m hurt. I’m confused. I’m waiting for my pain to go away or to let up. I’m trying not to rush through my pain because I know I need to experience it and process it, but I am so sick of crying. My family is so sick of me crying. Waiting as a concept sounds so nice and peaceful; like we light a candle and sit in the quiet serenity and be mindful. But really, for me it has meant I need to take frequent breaks at work because I burst into tears at random. It means watching Netflix to ease myself to sleep or else I will be kept awake by my thoughts. It’s not glorious or peaceful. It’s constantly reminding myself to breathe and process my grief while I wait. It’s painful. Advent isn’t about rushing to Christmas and rushing to the good parts; it’s about the slow anticipation and the gruesome and tiring act of waiting for things to get better. It’s about acknowledging that things are fucked up but maybe they won’t always be.
Advent has been especially difficult since my faith deconstruction. How can I anticipate something that I’m unsure of? How do I long for something I fear? How do I remain hopeful for something that I don’t understand? And maybe that’s why Advent is hitting me differently this time around. I’m finding it’s about sitting in the unknown and waiting and being okay with not having all the answers and not letting our need for omniscience rob us of our hope. It’s about having hope even when we have no idea what it will look like. It reminds me that the Christmas story is so special to me because of how anti-climactic the whole thing must have been to live through. There were people expecting this great king to come and rescue them and then this baby is born that takes them all by surprise. It must have felt like a letdown. I’m sure that wasn’t what they thought they were hoping for. I’m sure they hoped for something they thought was better. But still, they had hope. They had hope even when they weren’t sure what form their hope would come in. I think it’s okay for me to have hope even though I don’t know how it will come. Even though we don’t understand, we can hold hands with both pain and hope at the same time. Just wait. Hold on. It gets better. It gets better. It gets better.
Sit with those around you that are in pain. Hope is born in community. Grieve with those who grieve. Don’t get swept away into celebration and brush aside your pain. Let it be. Sit with it. Invite others into it. Walk into the void with someone and dare to be hopeful together. Rest. Anticipate. Let waiting mean whatever it means for you. Maybe it means finally releasing your tears or maybe it means meditating or being still for a moment. Maybe it means letting yourself take a nap and physically process. But waiting isn’t always this silent practice. It certainly isn’t always romantic, at least it rarely is for me. But Advent, I suppose, is about acknowledging the world of hurt around us and in us and waiting for hope and acting as people of hope. Active waiting. Being hope for others. Showing up for the sad, messy parts of life. Letting others know that while we still have yet to see the world become a better place, we can wait with one another so the journey is less painful.
There are days I feel like the waiting will kill me. I’m waiting for someone I love to be okay, waiting for a friend to reach out, waiting on the world to be less scary, waiting for a better job, waiting to be in a better financial place, waiting to get into a doctorate program, waiting to start off my career. Sometimes its too much. My heart never seems to get a break. I’m sensitive and the weight of the journey is excruciating for my fragile bones. So I call friends and ask them to talk me down from despair. I stay awake with my brothers who let me sob into their shoulders and tell them how much it hurts. Some days I haven’t been able to leave my bed so I just binge watch The Good Place and cry about how cruel the world is. But I keep trying to tell myself to feel all that hurt and keep going anyway. This is what Advent is all about. Have hope. Keep waiting. It gets better. It gets better. It gets better.