Advent 4 (Wednesday) :: Unexpected Gifts
If you’ve been following along in these last weeks, you know I’ve been at odds with God of late. This is not a popular topic for the last week of Advent, and it’s been an unusual holiday season for me. It’s also been instructive, affirming, and hopeful — a time in which I’ve received some unexpected gifts through the struggle.
I'd like to share a few of those unexpected gifts with you.
I recently heard Brené Brown discuss how easily we can dismiss the depth of authentic feelings with the words at least. We may do this in the name of being helpful to ourselves or others, but it only serves to distance us from the uncomfortable emotions of sorrow, disappointment, anxiety, or sadness. These words — at least — are a great friend of the false self.
When experiencing discomfort with any thoughts or emotions that emerge, especially as I’ve felt ill-at-ease expressing my anger at God in this season, I can all too easily go the “At least” route:
- “At least I know God.”
- “At least I have a loving wife in a warm home.”
- “At least I have a good career, where others value my work.”
- “At least I don’t have a terminal disease.”
- “At least I live in a free country, and I can worship freely.”
- “At least I still have the full use of my legs.”
- “At least it’s Christmas.”
At least, at least, at least . . .
These statements may all be true. They may provide perspective. But they fail me if they only help me sublimate my inner truth in a given moment.
Through the encouragement and wisdom of others, I’ve given myself permission to no longer “At least” myself through this season. This has been a great gift that I hope will keep giving after the holidays are behind us.
One pervasive experience of these past weeks, for me, has been that of my sustained irritability and anger — in particular, anger with God — that has resulted in frequent “God-chest beatings,” where I’ve hurled my choicest insults about God to God. I’ve also waited for lightening to strike. (As evidenced by this letter, it hasn’t yet.)
As I lashed out at God for some of my unprocessed hurts, disappointments, and losses, I felt a strange invitation to keep bringing it. Perhaps this is because I believe God’s big enough to handle it. Perhaps it’s because my soul insists on it.
But then a strange thing happened.
God reminded me of graced moments when I’ve presented my meanest, ugliest self to others, either through expressing anger at them or confessing it to them, and they remained steadfast in loving me and acknowledging my pain.
For example, when I separately admitted to both of the spiritual directors in my life all that I’ve been saying to God, neither of them flinched. They weren’t fazed in the least. In fact, they were supportive and encouraged me to “be with what is.”
I have desperately needed to name and express my anger over some very painful life experiences. I still do. And I need to do so without concerning myself with “what should be.” Right now, the invitation is: “What is?”
One reality of “what is,” is that I’m angry with God — but God is the one inviting me to be with the “what is” of my anger. In fact, one of my directors wondered if God isn’t perhaps the most delighted of all that I’ve arrived in this place of expressing my anger. This was a new thought for me.
A Steadfast Love
Advent is a season of waiting — and coming. It’s the coming of God in the most unsuspecting way. In my own experience of this Advent, I never suspected my anger would be the primary way God would come to me this season.
I projected my flawed humanity onto God and expected God to respond in kind. But it is God’s nature, not mine, that allows me to hurl insults and beat on God’s chest and still be loved, delighted in, and encouraged to keep doing so.
It feels bad, but it also feels very good.
I was recently reminded of someone I’ve worked with for more than twenty years who is the kindest man I know. Due to his leadership role in the company, he’s been on the receiving end of some nasty conversations — some real chest-beating moments, when others have expressed their anger against him, the visible target.
I’ve known many of those conversations to end in hugs and tears. I don’t know how he does it; his presence just seems to invite the truth from others in a safe and gentle way. He embodies the very strength and compassion God has been demonstrating toward me in my chest-beating moments with God.
Now I’m looking back at how God has weaved great love into all of these experiences.
God has come to me through my anger. God has come to me through the permission I’ve received to abandon expectations and the “at leasts” of my life. God has come to me through the invitation to be with “what is,” regardless of what it is, and to beat on God’s chest because of it.
God has been coming to me through presence, compassion, love, healing, and intimacy this Advent. It’s been painful, messy, frightening, unexpected, and amazing.
I guess it’s kind of like the birth of new life — life that’s loved into existence.
Come share your response in the Advent Meditations group.
Bidding you and yours the richest of holiday seasons.
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