1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
In recent years, Lent has become one of my favorite seasons - if not my favorite one. This may sound strange, given that Lent is a time of repentance, of turning away from earthly things in order to seek heavenly things. But Lent teaches me about myself and it is often where God meets me very clearly.
I'm a novice Episcopalian, so I'm new at this whole church calendar thing. But it seems to me that Advent and Lent are actually designed to be very similar seasons. During Advent, we await Jesus' birth. During Lent, we await his death and resurrection. Both Lent and Advent are meant to be times of preparation - not the kind of preparations we normally undertake during Advent (lights, shopping, decorating, parties, etc.), but heart preparations.
For the last several years, I've asked God for direction before deciding on a Lenten practice. One year, I gave up caffeine and created a collage everyday. The next year, I walked every morning. God met me in each of those places in unexpected ways. I had no desire to give up caffeine but found out it was the source of many of my headaches, so I'm still largely caffeine free, long after Lent 2010. My morning walks came to a screeching halt with a stress fracture in July and I have felt their loss acutely. What I've learned from asking God for direction on my Lent is that if I ask, He will tell me.
As I pondered Advent this year, I decided to try a similar approach to the one I take for Lent. I wanted to adopt some sort of spiritual exercise to mark the season. I wanted a way to set it apart for God - both for my heart and to try to reclaim the season from the commercial whirlwind it has become. So in October, I prayed for direction. It was one of those prayers that garnered a surprisingly quick response. "Write letters," I heard back almost immediately. "Letters?" I thought, a bit disappointed. I had been hoping for something crafty. "Are you sure, God? Letters?" Even as I felt an affirmation of this, I prayer-muttered, "Well, I'll keep praying about it." Do you do that? Pray for guidance and when you don't hear what you want you pretend you didn't hear God and offer to keep praying in the hopes you'll hear something different?
Later that same day, I was driving when I felt like God said to me out of nowhere, "Why are you so afraid of me? You're willing to ask me what you should do for Advent, but when I give you an answer you didn't expect, you're like, 'Wait, wait, that's not what I meant.' What are you afraid of?"
This was a very good question God was asking me. At the time, I had no idea what I was afraid of, but as is His way, God has made that more clear to me over the last two months. The process hasn't been pleasant or enjoyable, but I can see more clearly that I am afraid God doesn't love me - that He never has and never will. I am able to set this fear aside with sometimes more success than others, but the fear is still there.
I believe one way to combat this fear is to seek God and remind myself that He is who He says He is. So I've been writing Advent letters. My track record isn't great so far. Sunday, the first day of Advent, coincided with A's last mini-Nutcracker performance. By the end of a full week of rehearsals and performances, I was so spent emotionally and mentally that the idea of writing an Advent letter never crossed my mind. Tuesday J and I spent the day shopping for our girls and were on the run from the moment we dropped them off at tutorial to the minute we put them to bed last night. So I'm on day 4 of Advent with only a 50% success rate. These letters? So far they are to God Himself, wondering what He wants from me and why things continue to be so hard.
Earlier tonight J and I were on the phone and he said he can feel my desire to just pull away from everything. He's right. I want to curl up into a ball and hibernate my way right through about February. But hibernation and waiting are not the same thing. And I want my Advent this year to be about waiting and watching. Watching for the ways God is changing me, watching for the ways He is coming right here, right now. That sounds lovely, but has felt less so. I still feel heavy, lonely and distant from God.
And I am torn between feeling like a fraud as I put up a Christmas tree when I feel like God is so far way and feeling a longing to see God actually show up for me this Advent. The one blessing I can see from my exhaustion is that I am letting it guide us to a very low-key Christmas. I normally love to put the tree up as soon as Thanksgiving passes. This year, I did not even attempt it until A was done with dancing. And while the tree is up, the decorations are not. Cards are not - and likely will not - be mailed. I am just too overwhelmed by daily life to attempt extra things. Maybe in some bizarre way my exhaustion will point me right to the Advent I need - one where I ask God why over and over again, still putting one foot in front of the other and trusting He will guide me when I am ever-so-lost.