“Lullay thou little tiny child…”

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents. (Oh, and merry Christmas by the way. We’re on Day #4 of the Octave.) But while the “Coventry Carol” has always been my favorite Christmas carol, I have to be honest–I have a really hard time seeing how this feast day fits in to the season. Here we are in the Octave of Christmas, one of the two most joyful feasts in the Church’s calendar, and right smack dab in the middle we throw in a day to commemorate the horrific murder of a bunch of helpless little boys on the order of a deranged tyrant? Really?

I was struck in a new way by that image, “Rachel, weeping for her children, and she will not be comforted…for they are no more.” It breaks your heart, doesn’t it? It seems so unfair. God comes to earth as a little boy, and to mark the event he allows the massacre of all the neighbors’ kids. Joseph and Mary fled Bethlehem and went into Egypt; the other parents in Bethlehem tucked their babies in to bed and slept sound, never dreaming the king would have anything against them, let alone their children. This all came over me in a wave during mass today. Where was God? And yeah, let’s borrow that old cliche for a minute: how could he allow this to happen?

I think it’s going to be a lifetime before I have the full answer. These things are supposed to grow in us like they did in Mary. But one answer came to me today, and I wanted to share it, because I think it fits in with where we singles are in life right now. “Not as man sees does God see.” Or, to borrow another favorite old phrase: “God’s ways are not our ways.” (Thank God for scripture, eh?)

It’s easy to forget how much we live our lives in blind trust. And often that blindness means having the humility to say I just don’t get it. Beyond that, we have to have the courage to accept that sometimes God’s will isn’t going to fit in us comfortably. That isn’t a problem with God’s will, by the way; it means we’re cutting our own wills a bit too much slack. In my humanness, the thought of those baby boys dying literally wrenches my gut. I want to wave my arms and scream at the raw awfulness of it. (In truth, I’m afraid of it, of what it suggests about this Christian life. ) But in grace I have to let it go.  “God, this thing hurts so bad I can’t breathe around it. And you want it that way. I can’t sugar coat it or explain it or make it seem somehow beautiful. It’s hideous.”

This is what it is to accept God’s will, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easy, because we see the good in it right away. (Falling in love; taking that job we really, really wanted and just got offered.) And sometimes it’s at least doable, because we know there’s good in it even if we can’t see it. (I’m thinking of difficult medical procedures, or pregnancy and childbirth; of writing a dissertation or moving across the country for the sake of family.) But what about doing God’s will when we can’t see the good in it? Even harder, what about standing back and watching God’s will be done, despite all our best efforts, despite our understanding, our wants, our fears? And what about accepting that God allows unpleasant, nasty, and even horrifying things to happen sometimes–and trusting Him anyway?

Maybe He has to pull us up short in the midst of our celebrating so we don’t forget. His ways are not our ways. There are some things we just can’t understand.

 

 

Advertisements

If Failure Were Impossible…What Would You Do?

As this year draws to a close, the need to start outlining clear goals for myself has taken on extra weight. That old habit of New Year’s resolutions kicks in strong around Christmas time each year. In my last year of college I tried to step away from New Year’s resolutions, telling myself the important thing is to seek constant improvement of self–it should be a daily thing, not a yearly one. Which is true. But the New Year is a good time to reassess on the big things.

Things like career and life goals. I’ve been at my current job almost three years, and I can honestly say that I love it. I’ve found my industry (publishing), I get to indulge one of my greatest passions (reading ) for a paycheck, and I’ve grown so much as a professional. But I’m starting to stagnate. And the longer I stay here, the more afraid I become that I’ll never get around to living out my greatest passion. My childhood dream of being “a writer” has never gone away. But where do I begin? And what if I’m not good enough? What if I fail? I’m comfortable and safe where I am right now, and I’m so tempted to close my eyes and sleep. Who says I can’t just…stay?

I’m reminded of the parable of the talents. I think God gives each of us a pretty good idea of which servant we are–some of us clearly have five talents to start, while others have only one. I’ve always found myself on the level of the middle servant–the one who received two talents. And I’ve resented it. Was I not good enough for five? Yet here I sit guarding my two talents like a miser, doing nothing with them and envying people who have more. I need to pull them out of that hole in the ground and get out there and do something with them. But I’m afraid.  

I attended a day-long conference last fall, and in the course of one of many talks the keynote speaker posed this question: “If failure were impossible, what would you do?” That question has haunted me. What undertakings have I been leaving on the back burner because I know so well that failure is all too possible? I think this question speaks to many of us, and it poses a terrifying challenge.

Being single can be a great asset in this case. I’m not tied down to anything or any place. I have no family to worry about. My roommate gets married next June, and my lease is month to month starting in January. I could go just about anywhere come July. The question is, where should I go? What should I do? Where do I want to go, to do? Most importantly, where does God want me to go–and what does He want me to do?

As we step into this Christmas season, I pray for the ability to listen without fear, with openness and trust. I pray that God will show me how to use these talents He has given me for His greater glory.

Patience

Advent is a good time to reflect on patience. It’s an odd virtue, and hard to practice, because the best way to “do” it is by “not doing” anything. Practicing this virtue reminds us that we give most glory to God–we become most fully who we’re meant to be–when we stop focusing solely on doing and work on being.

That’s what Advent is all about, isn’t it? “The world in solemn stillness lay,” we hear in the old Christmas hymn. And we in solemn stillness lie in Advent, waiting…waiting…waiting. Not doing anything, because there is nothing we can do. We can only wait. We can only be.

I recently heard a woman say, “I believe we live our whole lives in Advent.” I agree with her.  Something in the human heart rises up in affirmation during this season. We recognize it as being a fuller expression of who we are all the time. And of course, we have to draw the connection to singlehood. Aren’t we singles in a particularly poignant Advent? Christ was born of Mary, and He shaped her life from that moment on. He was the little boy who needed to be fed, clothed, cared for. He was her “vocation” in a fuller sense than He is anyone else’s. But we in this single phase of life are still waiting for our vocations to take “flesh” and be lived out. We’re waiting for the coming of Christ in our lives in that way.

The practice of patience is always a challenge. But somehow in Advent it’s always a little easier. Fulfillment no longer seems a lifetime away. You can count its coming in days, in the lit candles of the Advent wreath. A little while longer, and He will be with us. Patience. Christ is coming.

 

 

 

Advent

Being single is always hardest after 11:00 p.m., regardless of your creed. Especially on a Saturday.

I “played eyes” with a guy in a local coffee shop between smatterings of conversation with a good friend for half an hour this evening. And I thought, “Why do these things never go anywhere?” I’m having a bad hair week and my eyes look tired–as tired as I feel. Some days being single feels as pathetic as a Grade B chick flick.

Still, it’s Advent. The usual hope is augmented by the hope that’s part and parcel of this season. You breathe it in the early winter air and see it in the friendly winking of the neighbors’ Christmas lights. Something is coming. HE is coming.

I’m about to drag my weary, single, moping self to bed, and I go in hope. Christ is coming; why should our hearts not dance?