Advent: joy

I remember more now of why I have a hard time liking Christmas in my adult life. Its all coming back to me now. Outside of the materialism and craziness of it all, there is this general hope that the whole season will be magical and fulfilling. At the start, right after Thanksgiving, I get this giddy feeling of expectation, the start of something new, hope that this year will be better. Then somewhere right around now, week 3, it begins to sour a bit for me. I start to get these feelings of panic, like the season is slipping away from me and I am not enjoying it enough. Then I begin to think about life in general, about how another year has gone by. I think about the unfulfilled dreams, the way I wish things had turned out instead of the way things are. And then I start to think about childhood lost, how magical and exciting Christmas was as a child, free from worry and responsibility, and how I will never get that back… depressing I know. And its nothing less than the enemy trying to steal my joy.

So here I am, week 3, and I am confronting these disappointing feelings once again. In the past, I would get caught up in the sadness, but this year, I’m fighting back. I’m trying to analyze what exactly is going on here. What is it about the Christmas season? Why does it have so much power to make some feel incredibly joyful and thankful yet others, so painfully lonely? I think, in part, for those of us who do not have the traditional family element in our lives (something that is a running theme throughout most of the Chistmas season), Christmas is a painful reminder of that reality. For people who can’t be with their family, are estranged from them, lost a family member to death, dealt with divorce, or have yet to be blessed with a family of their own, Christmas brings out hurt. There is something in us that longs for the cookie cutter Christmas, the Norman Rockwell painting, or at least some semblance of what seems like the “norm” in the culture we call ours. To be excluded from that, to feel left out or left behind, it’s painful.

So how do we (and by we I mean I) move past the hurt? Choose Joy.

Ok, I say that, but I don’t really know how to do that successfully all the time. It seems fitting that week 3 theme of advent is joy…or at least I think it is… there seems to be some discrepancy of tradition here. But for me, week 3 is the week I think about joy. And I need it.

I think I have a hard time with finding the difference between “choosing joy” and just numbing or ignoring the pain. Last night I was at a Christmas party and I was reminded of something that made me sad. And when you’re sad in the middle of a party where everybody is having fun, thats weird. So at some point I consciously pushed it aside and just put on a smile determined not to think about it anymore. But it felt weird, almost like I was faking. The aching sad was still there, I was just trying not to acknowledge it or let it consume me. Is that right? Parts of it sounds right, like not giving the sadness the power to costume me to steal my joy, but the sadness is still there, I just chose to ignore it. There is something at the root there that needs to be dealt with.

So maybe choosing joy is a journey I am on. Maybe some of us have trained ourselves in the art of melancholy and letting circumstances steal our joy and we just need to retrain ourselves in the art of Joy. Then, maybe, choosing joy will be less about trying to ignore the sad stuff, but more about noticing more of the good stuff.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with too much Disney, but I often get caught up in the idea that joy comes from grand things: the wedding to the man of your dreams, the amazing job opportunity, the newborn baby….the perfect Christmas. But joy must come from places other than that. Beyond the great things God has done for me, there are so many small things as well. And maybe if I notice and get caught up in these small things some more, I won’t be so desperate for the elusive “big-ticket” joy items.

So, it the spirit of joy week, these are a few of my favorite things:

twinkly lights
the smell of fabric softener
passion fruit
perfect 75 degree evenings with a slight breeze
laughing until crying
mint chocolate anything
dancing at weddings
sand on my feet after a day at the beach
ladies night
a new dress
Mexican food
brunch with friends
Jimmy Fallon
a good book
real christmas trees
running longer than you thought you could

When the dog bites… when the bee stings… when I’m feeling saaad… I simply remember my favorite things, and then I won’t feeeel, soooo baaaaad!

Well that felt good.

Really, at the end of the day, the things that steal my joy at Christmastime isn’t even the things that Christmas is really about. If I focus on the only thing Christmas is about, God born as a baby to connect with us in the most real way possible and save all of our lives, how can I be sad about that?

And so we wait, in this Advent season, with the joy of looking back and remembering God’s good works in the world and in our lives, with being present in the small joys God gives us everyday, and with anticipation of what is to come.

Here is a quote about advent that just filled me with a little spark of joy:

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. . . . The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

–Frederick Buechner



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