“His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past year. Some of it has been fascinating, some helpful and some quite painful. Even as recently as this week, I am coming to see how my response to stress and uncertainty is to ignore these feelings, to withdraw from the pain and to throw myself into productivity and task completion. I have always valued this ability, seen it as a gift. When others might stop or cry or acknowledge that which overwhelms them I can keep going.
But now, even as recently as this week, I am coming to see the damage that this withdrawal and denial does to me and those that I love. As I shut down those parts of me that feel pain, I also block out the ability to feel love, joy – and the ability to laugh. I hate to be vulnerable because I only see vulnerability to pain. But if I become impervious to pain, I simultaneously become impervious to joy.
Reading Mary’s story again this Advent, I am amazed at her ability to remain calm, contemplative and trusting in the midst of
drastic change, uncommon calling and the trials of parenting (Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2: 51). When I would begin assessing my resources and what I need to live as a single mother, Mary ponders the angels words and says, “Here I am.” When I would try to find clean cups and water in the midst of the stable for my guests, Mary receives visitors by simply listening and treasuring their words and message. And when Mary finds her lost 12-year-old, she (thankfully) loses it briefly, but then considers the big picture and treasures the experience in her heart. Her ability to face angels, receive strangers and parent with such an open heart and vulnerability to the present moment is staggering to me. I can feel my chest begin to tighten just imaging living a life so porous to the highs and lows of life.
Faced with too much work, missing family and friends during the holidays and living amidst the daily challenges of a developing nation and pastoral duties, I can put my head down and strive for productivity in the vain attempt to meet everyone’s expectations. OR I can take time each day to ponder these challenges, to treasure those whom God has placed in my life to sustain me and treasure the gift of these days and ministry in Malawi. In the past weeks I chose the former.
But Jeff, God’s greatest gift to me, forced me to stop, to see my life and my choices. And when I let the tears come that I had been holding back by sheer will power for so long, I realized that I also had not laughed for the same amount of time. It took so much effort not to be vulnerable that I could not allow enough space in my soul for any emotion. I knew deep down that even a single laugh would have been enough to break the facade and the pain and frustration would have come pouring out. Jeff knew it too, and so he gave me the safe place to cry – and in the same night I laughed. And I came back to my family.
To ponder and not to push. To contemplate and not to contain. To treasure and not to try. These are my Advent lessons.