My husband and I put up our Christmas tree on October 25. Call us eager. And bored.
But despite all the glitter and music, the gifts and velvet bows, almost half of Americans wrestle through the holidays—even without a pandemic. Mental health workers say that some people get the holiday blues because there’s this perception and comparison of others having more and doing more.
Enter 2020. Humpty Dumpty has fallen. It’s not just COVID cases that have surged. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression have also spiked this year. Weeks of waiting have turned into long months. Although Advent is the season of waiting, many could do without it by now—the unexpected and mundane; social distancing, virtual learning; endless Zooms. The world waits for God to put Humpty back together again.
As a little girl, I dreamt of having a “normal” adult life. I’m still waiting for that. This year I turned fifty—four decades younger than Sarah when she gave birth. Women with children like to remind me of this. I’ve spent my sixteen-year marriage watching everyone else have kids. I know waiting. Some friends have three or four kids by now. From a limited human perspective, it would seem like God forgot about me. Or even worse—maybe he skipped over me—on purpose.
In Malachi we read of the Israelites returning from Babylonian exile. And then they waited for God to reestablish their kingdom. And waited. And waited some more. One hundred years passed—enough time for the Israelites to give up hope that God would keep his promise. And things got ugly. In their cynicism, the Israelites rebelled against God by marrying pagans and oppressing the poor. Even the priests disobeyed Mosaic Law.
So the prophet Malachi came onto the scene with this message for the Israelites: God doesn’t forget his own, so trust Him to keep His promises. And then like any good Old Testament prophet, he warned them that they needed to repent because judgment would come.
Here’s the point: The wicked and the righteous experience both suffering and blessing this side of heaven. And that may not seem fair. American culture has convinced us that suffering isn’t normal. And that we can pretty up our messy problems by tying big red bows on them. But as Christians, we have signed up for lives that appear abnormal to a culture that values the appearance of having it together. Someone told us we’re entitled to problem-free lives. But it wasn’t God who said that. Hardship is all over the Bible. It seems when we agree to God’s terms, embracing abnormal (and lots of waiting) comes with the territory.
I don’t know if that encourages you. But it encourages me to know that in a fallen messed up world we will encounter intense doubt and despair. And that some problems just don’t get solved here on earth. And sometimes God doesn’t explain why we have to hurt. Knowing this brings me relief. Or at least it eases some of the pain of waiting.
This Advent season, are we just waiting? Or waiting well?