I was struck by the Lectionary reading for this past Sunday in Philippians 4.
If you are not familiar with the lectionary or the liturgical reading of the bible you can learn more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lectionary its more than just a Christian calendar, it was first used in Judaic worship.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I think we tend to read this verse as an “Ask and you shall receive” form of scripture. You know, we ask God through prayer and God magically responds filling our deepest wishes. While I have always known this was not theologically sound, I have to admit there have been times when I have found myself falling into this trap. I’m praying, I’m begging and yet it seems I’m still sitting here waiting for answers. I take 2 steps forward, only take 1 back, and that is on a good week. 3 steps back has been more the norm most weeks!
This past 4 months has caused great soul searching in me. One thing I have focused on is the second part of this scripture “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” While we ask for healing, healing may or may not be found, but what is promised is peace and a guarding of our hearts through the process. God has granted me peace on and off through this process of healing. Please note I said on and off. This has not been an everyday reality for me. In reality, it’s more of an hour by hour thing.
Since we entered the “holiday” season it has been even harder to find any peace. This seems so wrong! After all, this is the season of hope, peace, joy and love in all the celebrations and renditions of the holidays: Buddhists have Bodhi celebrating the enlightenment of Buddha, Christians have Advent and Christmas, Judaism has Hanukkah a remembrance of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, Pagans celebrate several festivals, one which is very similar in content to the Christian birth of Jesus, and Secular holidays abound too: Kwanza, Boxing Days, Dongzhi Festival, Solstice and the list goes on. The point of all holidays are the same, celebration, peace, love, joy and hope.
I don’t know about you, but all this celebrating seems overdone and not an easy fit. We all bring baggage into this season; families that function less than perfect, personal expectations left unmet by the past year, past trauma from holidays long since forgotten by others, anger, hurt fear, frustration, etc. Not a lot of celebrating and good cheer!
So how do we meet these less than stellar holidays and the packaging of cheery goodness they bring? I for one am taking this season one day at a time. Yes, an old cliché drawn from AA, yet it holds great value if we unpack it. One day means just that, not yesterday, not tomorrow but today. Being present in the here and now, with the people we are with. Not the person they were 10 years ago but the person they are now. Not dwelling on the hurts of last year but the joy of today. I woke up, I’m breathing and semi upright today.
Now do not read this as a suggestion that if you have people in your life who are toxic you should rush out and invite them to your home. I would never go there! However, there are little things and changes we don’t allow for in the lives of others. We focus on the harsh words spoken in anger by a child and think the relationship is changed forever. We focus on the actions or lack of action of a spouse last year and can’t offer grace that just maybe this year will be different. You know the little things we get hung up on. I wonder what would happen if we could sweep these out with the leaves cluttering our yards. Would the holidays seem brighter?
There are also those unanswered prayers I mentioned at the start. What about them. How do they play a roll in our melancholy? Do we feel forgotten by our higher power, unimportant to our creator? I know in the past few weeks I have felt all these things; abandoned, unloved, scared, unimportant, angry, frustrated, and downright depressed. I know some of this is medication and situational. But I can’t help but wonder how much is based in the theology of not seeing grace in my life and offering grace to others.
Do I truly believe God will give me peace for the moment? Can I give away myself and offer grace to those around me? Can I just for today live in the moment, in the here and now? Can I trust that I woke up today and I’m a whole person if only for today? I think if I can find hope, peace, joy, and love for this day it will be enough. Today, this minute, I will rest in the “guarding of my heart.” Tomorrow will be a new day to ask these questions again. It is my hope that with each day a new understanding of the season will spread through my being and your life too. Until then remember you are never alone. Joy is there to be claimed, even if it is claimed one second at a time.