It has been months since I blogged, and even more months before the last time I blogged. I have thought about it nearly every day, but have unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) simply pushed the thought from my mind. I have experienced the fall (and the summer before that) in deeply negative ways, and I didn't want to subject the blogosphere to my excursions into the land of negativity and despair.
But here it is, the first day of Winter, the longest night of the year. I have always found the season of Fall a bittersweet mixture of delight and despair. I delight in the beauty of nature's hues bespeckling the leaves of trees with the final explosions of autumnal reverie. I enjoy the crispness to the air, a contrast to the murky humidity of late summer. I look forward to the beginning of a new school year as it provides a sense of normality into our family's life once again.
But as the days become shorter and the nights longer, I find myself experiencing despair. Difficult conversations that I can normally push myself through become harder to bear during the chilling months of fall. Conflicted relationships pierce my soul in a deeper fashion. Responsibilities that are ordinarily easily fulfilled become arduous, unfulfilling tasks. As the light of each day gradually slips into the darkness of winter I can feel my soul becoming more intent on self-preservation, less trusting, less settled.
It would be one thing to experience this if the only thing I needed to do each day is to clock in at a job where I made the same widgets every day in the same factory where I had worked for twenty years of my life. My shift would come to a conclusion as I hear the "thrunk" of the metallic device stamping my time card, and I could walk away, leaving the stresses of work behind.
My experience might also be different if my responsibilities as husband and father were more typical. After an eight-hour day of work I would return home to my statistically average 2.2 children. We would do what a typical family does (whatever that might be). I would not have to listen to the every night tantrum of a thirteen-year-old whose diagnoses create consistent noise, cursing and a very low threshold for any kind of frustration. I would have a desk in my bedroom where the scissors I purchased last week would be right where I placed them (yeah, I know, that's what happens in "typical" families, too). I could go on, but you get the picture.
But I do not have that kind of life. I have made decisions vocationally and parentally that preclude this fantasy from occurring. Usually I can balance the frustrations and irritations with the blessings and the benefits of my lifestyle. But not so well during the cold of fall and winter.
I was reminded again of that reality as I prepared to preach yesterday. I knew what the Scripture text would be (I had, after all, selected it) and I knew what the focus of the service would be (again, my choices), but my heart was far from what I needed to preach. My task was to preach on peace, and my heart was in a land far, far from that place of abundant faith experience. I spent most of Saturday embittered and angry about my Sunday morning task, because I hate to preach about something that seems so far away for me personally. It feels like dishonesty, and if nothing else I am a fairly honest person.
My sense of peace had been stolen by life events. I am irritated with an oldest son who does not have even the courtesy to call between major holidays, but can always be counted on to extend his hand when it's something he needs. I am annoyed to have another "adult" son who spends more time behind bars than in the clear light of freedom, always believing he will outsmart the authorities, but who always gets caught. I am impatient with another "adult" son whose only real requirement for living in our home rent-free is that he attend school, yet he cannot seem to get himself up to do that much. I am continually in a morass of ambiguity knowing that I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who will soon give birth to our first grandchild. I could go on and on, but I will not.
I have felt trapped, annoyed, irritated, without much hope. And so I spent a fretful Saturday night with little restful sleep, awakening Sunday morning to fulfill my responsibilities, but unhappily so. And so I preached about peace, even though my own spirit was rocked with anxiety and self-doubt. I preached from the Lukan account of the delivery of Jesus. Luke says surprisingly little at the point. Basically we hear that Mary and Joseph leave their home environs for the bustling, capitol city, where they bed down in an animal's dwelling. And then "while they were there" Mary gives birth to her son. I found myself drawn to that phrase "while the were there." The more I preached the more I realized that my primary audience yesterday was myself.
Mary and Joseph accept their setting for what it is, and they do what they need to do for that moment in time. We don't hear from Luke whether they had any other preferences or desires; we simply know that "while they were there" they allowed to take place what was going to take place. They recognized their inability to change their immediate circumstances, and they simply did what they needed to do. What stood out to me yesterday is the sense of peace the scene invokes. The surroundings are simple, the parents humble, their child one of many born in Jerusalem that day. But the difference for people of Christian faith is that is the first day that God's light dawns upon God's people in such a visible, tangible way.
It's kind of like the winter solstice, when the nights gradually become shorter as the days become longer. Light returns, new possibility emerges and we find peace within ourselves. Not in our outward circumstances or situations (of our own or others' making), but within ourselves. And that is God's gift to us. A sense of peace that is unshakeable because it comes from beyond ourselves, but paradoxically, from within ourselves.
I'm not sure if anyone else heard God speak through yesterday's sermon, but I did. And I trust that a newfound sense of peace will embrace my beleaguered spirit once again.