In the spring, I can toy with my northern friends, sending them pictures of us splashing at the lake and taking long walks, while they wait for their yards to defrost and deslush. In the fall, my northern friends send me photos of their crunchy-leaved lawns, their flannel jacket walks and their fireplaces, while we sweat it out Indian-summer style.
In the winter – it feels like we all lose.
Yesterday my friend sent me a picture of her dashboard temperature: 6 degrees. Her thumbs had just warmed up enough to text.
I sent her a picture of my dashboard temperature: 84 degrees. I had the a/c on blast and a giant cup of iced tea.
Our tree is up and the stockings are hanging off the counter because bottom floor apartments don’t get fireplaces. I have some garland strung over the dining room table, our Advent wreath moves around the coffee table with (currently) a tiny bucket of blocks, sheets of paper half colored, and a pink watering can. I have six candles on the counter between the kitchen and the living area because I really, really need it to smell like Christmas in here. It’s 80 degrees every day, breezy, sunny, hazy in the mornings. We listen to “Sleigh Ride” on the way to school, the Beastie in her sleeveless dress and me in my gym shorts.
Frankly, this makes me a bit out of sorts. My Americanized imaginary Christmas does not look like this, despite the fact that I’ve grown up in Florida. I feel grumpy and waiting for Christmas feels less like a bunch of spiritual analogies I’d like to pull out of the trees frosted with a fine layer of snow and more like an interminable wait for who knows what. I determine every year that I’m going to EMBRACE CHRISTMAS and wait well and enjoy the moments and find all the magical things, but the past few years it just seems like I can’t pull it off. We wait and we wait and we wonder if the Father is actually involving Himself in our deferred hopes at all and we wrap up a few presents and light the candles on the wreath. And more waiting.
A writer friend of mine remarked recently that she hoped she would be better at a particular painful thing, seeing as how she has to do it a lot – she gets a lot of practice. She believed and hoped it might get easier after awhile. But she is discovering that “endurance just leads to more endurance. But also character. And hope.” [Romans 5:3-5].
I promptly texted her that I don’t want endurance to lead to more endurance — I want endurance to lead to feeling AWESOME. Which we all agree would be totally great, yes? We persevere through frigid temperatures and/or tank top Christmas weather and maybe we feel AWESOME because we just keep going. (Meh….) But do we ever endure through deferred hope or painful, repetitious suffering or injustice and start feeling like, “YES, I am NAILING handling suffering!”?
This is not typically how I feel. This week, it feels like my endurance is perishing [Lamentations 3:26].
A friend recently reminded me that not only does my endurance produce character that I cannot always see, God the Father is always working out a redemptive purpose far beyond what we could ask or imagine — He is working out hope in us, whether we can see and name it or not [Ephesians 3:20, Romans 8:25]. The difference is not going to be made with me in a different set of circumstances, but with Christ in me.
I struggle with this. I find what I have committed my life to – the cause of Christ – to often appear inexplicably irrelevant or unsatisfactory for explaining grief and abandonment and suffering. It does not seem “enough” to say, “Ah, well, but God is working out hope and He will redeem us all in the last, amen?” It seems nearly heartless to say that to the mom whose child is battling cancer or to my friend suffering depression or to the refugees fleeing Aleppo or the whole broken world that is just groaning with the pain of death and choking in the smoke of bombed cities.
But I think what I am coming to is that assessing and making determinations with my senses and limited knowledge is what is actually inadequate and not enough. I can never hope to offer peace if I am depending on my own interpretations of redemption and justice. I have no hope of extending healing and help to those in despair if I am relying on my not-quite vast and not-quite infinite imagination. And, for certain, I cannot merely be after my own good, after my own relief from enduring. What folly and what self-absorption! The life of Christ was a taken and broken and given away life…and I sit here snatching and hoarding and wanting more of what I say is good.
I know it seems like He will never restore hope and death will never die. It is easy to say, There can be no possible recompense for this terror and injustice! There is truly no way to make right what is destroying the people, the family, my heart…
But I am saying to you you simply do not know that.
The hope of the manger is the empty tomb.
The victory of the baby is the triumph over death.
The historical coming of Messiah was like a slow burn over history. And Emmanuel, God with us, come to rescue and restore – I urge you to silence the protests of your tiny imagination. I beg you to consider that every sad thing will become untrue. Not “every sad thing will one day be worth it” – no. You cannot make dying children and the rape of girls and the bombing of homes and the despair of a lonely heart “worth it”. But He will make it completely not true anymore.
I beg you to endure with me.
What does the Father say is good? Because His life indwells those who belong to Him – there is a mystic and mysterious union life when we are overshadowed by the Spirit of God, when we are bound to His family. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” becomes the refrain of His children [Philippians 1:21]. We carry around in our bodies the death of Christ, so that His righteous, eternal, holy life is made evident in our broken human selves [1 Corinthians 4:10-11]. Therefore I get to surrender my definition of “good” and defer to His righteous definition of good.